CINCINNATI — Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow sat at his closet, legs outstretched, looking ahead in a room that had mostly emptied.
If he was trying to make sense of what happened in Cincinnati’s season opener, he wasn’t alone. The Bengals endured a day that featured several turnovers, a fumbled punt and a rocky outing in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Cincinnati’s first game since Super Bowl LVI, Burrow committed five turnovers, the Bengals missed two chances to win the game and were left with a sour result.
“We had our chances,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “To lose the turnover battle five to nothing, to have kicking operations ruined on two kicks that would have both won the game, is disheartening in that way.”
Chris Boswell‘s 53-yard field goal at the end of overtime allowed the Steelers to escape with a victory and snap a three-game losing streak against their AFC North rivals.
Burrow threw a career-high four interceptions and lost a fumble in the team’s loss. He was also sacked six times. And yet, the Bengals were still in position to pull off an unlikely victory.
“Obviously, you don’t want to throw four picks,” Burrow said. “But I never panicked. We stayed even and we came back and put ourselves in a position to win.”
At the end of regulation, Burrow threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to a wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to tie the game at 20 with two seconds left. But Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who returned an interception for a touchdown on Cincinnati’s first drive of the game, blocked the potential game-winning extra point. Cincinnati’s special teams unit had a shot at redemption in the extra period. Bengal kicker Evan McPherson missed a 29-yard field goal that could have won the game in overtime.
On both of those kicks, Cincinnati used a tight end Mitchell Wilcox like the long-snapper. Clark Harris, who has held the position for the team since 2009, suffered a right biceps injury that ruled him out for the end of regulation and overtime. Wilcox, who said he was a long-snapper in high school and a backup in college in South Florida, took over.
“We had a chance on the first one,” Wilcox said. “It just stuck. On the second one, it’s on me. I have to give [punter Kevin Huber] better click there.”
Boswell also missed a 55-yard field goal with 2:27 left in overtime that could have ended the game. His kick sailed left and struck the left upright, leaving the game undecided until he ended it at the end of overtime.
Pittsburgh was unable to pull away despite the massive turnover advantage. Cincinnati’s defense limited the Steelers to 267 total yards. In his debut with the equipment, Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky was 21-of-38 for 194 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Steelers running back Najee Harris was held to 23 yards on 10 carries and did not finish the game due to a foot injury.
“It was enough,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the team’s offensive performance.
Last year the Bengals beat the Steelers twice on their way to a division title that led to their first playoff berth since 2015. That postseason run produced the team’s first postseason win in 31 years and the team’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1989.
On many occasions last season, Cincinnati could only do enough to squeak out a win. On Sunday, the Bengals almost pulled a positive result out of a game that featured many unfortunate events.
Instead, they were left trying to piece together a wild season-opening loss.
“A loss is a loss,” Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said “It hurts all the same. “We had a chance and didn’t take it.”