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Bengals play well for three quarters but don't finish

12/7/2014

CINCINNATI -- Visit practice on a football field at any level during the preseason and you'll hear the same word shouted multiple times.

Finish!

It's the call sounded by coaches hellbent on getting players to run through routes and drills, and to make it through plays until long after the whistle sounds.

The repeated pleas have a deeper meaning, though. Sunday afternoon inside Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals didn't live up to it.

"That's what coaches all the way from high school talk about -- finish the drill, finish the drill," safety George Iloka said. "That's the metaphor. Finish the drill means finish the game."

For three quarters against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals were great. With a 21-20 lead at the start of the final period, they had momentum and the ball and looked like they were going to emerge with a fourth-straight win.

But a fumble on a faked read-option hand off turned into a turnover, which turned into a Steelers score. And another. And another.

After the fumble and three touchdowns later, the Bengals lost, 42-21. It was the first time they had lost a second consecutive game at Paul Brown Stadium by 21 or more points since 2002, when current Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was Cincinnati's head coach.

Following the fumble Sunday, it seemed like the fourth quarter simply got by the Bengals and everything snowballed in the wrong direction.

First, it was Le'Veon Bell who capitalized on the fumble by scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run on Pittsburgh's possession that immediately followed the turnover. Three minutes later, Martavis Bryant blew past Bengals corner Leon Hall on a play-action go route that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made sure to throw long.

"They showed a coverage and I didn't believe them," Roethlisberger said of the Bengals' defense. "We did a little play-action and just let it fly. I've underthrown him in practice because when he gets running, he's fast. I just put it out there, let him run under it, and he did the rest."

After Bryant's score, Bell added a 22-yard touchdown run that proved to be the final backbreaking score. Of Pittsburgh's 543 yards of total offense, 229 came in the fourth quarter.

"I can't tell the psyche of everybody individually, but I just know on a collective whole we just didn't finish," Iloka said.

With three games still left on the regular season schedule and the Bengals still enjoying a lead -- albeit a slim one at a half game -- in the AFC North, some weren't too broken up about the lack of finishing.

"One quarter of football doesn't define our season," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We don't worry about the ending score of games. We worry about whether we won. That's the only thing they keep track of. That'll be important: to bounce back and win the next three games by a half a point or by 30. I don't care. To win and go 3-0 [the next three weeks], we can put ourselves in position of where we want to be."