AFC North: 2013 Week 2 PIT at CIN Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 20, Steelers 10

September, 16, 2013

A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 20-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: We're only two weeks into the regular season, but already the AFC North race is beginning to take the shape that most anticipated during the offseason. With the Steelers and Browns now both sitting at 0-2, the Bengals and Ravens are beginning to look like the division's true leaders. Monday night's game was important for both teams involved, but it could arguably be considered an even bigger deal for the Bengals, a team eager to legitimize itself and to prove the preseason chatter wasn't really all "Hard Knocks"-fueled hype.

Stock watch: Falling -- Andy Dalton. OK, so a week ago, he was the King of the Queen City after posting a blistering 78.8 percent completion in the Bengals' three-point loss at Chicago. The stock meter was trending positively for the third-year offensive leader who displayed a high aptitude for getting the ball out of his hand quickly and throwing successfully into tight spaces during the opener. He wasn't anywhere near as sharp Monday night, even with what appeared to be more time to pass. More times than not, his incompletions were high and well beyond his receivers' reach. On 45 attempts, he completed just 56 percent of his passes. There still are 14 games to go in the regular season, though, so Dalton has plenty of time to prove his Week 1 showing was no fluke.

Rookie impact: First-year running back Giovani Bernard had his Cincinnati coming-out party Monday night, rushing for a 7-yard touchdown in the first half and weaving his way back into the end zone in the third quarter on a 27-yard touchdown reception. The fans who had been pleading with head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for greater involvement out of the speedy Bernard got their wish. In all, he touched the ball nine times (eight runs, one catch). In last week's loss, Bernard rushed four times and caught one pass.

What's next: Cincinnati (1-1) has a big test this Sunday when it hosts Green Bay (1-1) in a nonconference showdown at Paul Brown Stadium. A win over the Packers would go a long way toward convincing critics that Cincinnati is to be taken seriously in the league this season.

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 20, Steelers 10

September, 16, 2013

CINCINNATI – A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: The Steelers played better Monday night than they did in a season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans, but it will still be a quiet plane ride back to Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 0-2 for the first time under seventh-year coach Mike Tomlin, and the offense hasn’t looked this challenged since 2003, when Pittsburgh went 6-10.

The defense again played well enough, but it will have to dominate games for the Steelers to beat playoff-caliber teams this season. Through two games, the Steelers have not forced any turnovers, and they have notched one quarterback sack.

Stock watch: The offense produced a few spasms of productivity, and it actually looked like a legitimate NFL unit late in the second quarter when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led a five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive.

But even when Roethlisberger completed a pass, he had to fit the ball into a tight window, and the Steelers again got very little from their running game. Felix Jones led the way with 37 yards on 10 carries -- and that was a marked improvement from what Steelers running backs did the previous week. Yikes.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley provided more fodder for frustrated Steelers fans with some of his play calls. A reverse to a 31-year-old possession receiver (Jerricho Cotchery)? Really?

Spike it, will ya? What were the Steelers thinking after tight end David Paulson got stripped at the end of a 34-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter? The Steelers took their time getting to the line of scrimmage when they should have been hurrying to snap the ball, since Paulson had been ruled down before he fumbled.

The dawdling gave Bengals coach Marvin Lewis enough time to watch a replay and throw the challenge flag. The call was reversed, and Cincinnati needed just five plays to cover 87 yards and score the first touchdown of the game after the turnover.

What’s next: The Steelers play another prime-time game when they host the 2-0 Chicago Bears on Sunday night, and it is not too early to call it a must-win situation for Pittsburgh. The team has missed the playoffs all three times it has started a season 0-3 since 1970.

The Bears couldn’t give a hoot about the Steelers’ problems, and their opportunistic defense will be able to take its share of chances against an offense that simply doesn't have enough playmakers.