Special teams hijinks, Burrow turnovers cost the Bengals in Week 1 loss to Steelers

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) and Pittsburg Steelers wide receiver Diontae...
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple (20) and Pittsburg Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) compete for position during the first quarter of a Week 1 NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. Cara Owsley-USA TODAY Sports Cara Owsley/The Enquirer(Cara Owsley/The Enquirer)
Published: Sep. 11, 2022 at 5:06 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CINCINNATI (ENQUIRER) - Since the Cincinnati Bengals signed long snapper Clark Harris 14 years ago, he has never had an unplayable snap.

Then in Sunday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harris had to leave the game with a biceps injury. And in the last three seconds of the game, the Bengals only needed to make an extra point to win the season opener.

If Harris were healthy, the Bengals would have had two chances at a game-winning field goal. Instead, the Steelers beat the Bengals, 23-20, in the season opener at Paycor Stadium. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell made a 53-yard field goal at the end of overtime to win it.

Since Harris couldn’t snap the ball, third-string tight end Mitchell Wilcox had to fill a role he has never done before. Following a blooper of a snap, Evan McPherson missed what would have been the go-ahead extra point that would have won the game. In overtime, McPherson missed a 29-yard field goal that would have won it following a high snap.

The two snaps wasted two potential game-winning drives from Joe Burrow. If it weren’t for the special teams unit, Burrow would have started 2022 with another game that added to his legend.

Burrow got the ball with 95 seconds left in regulation, down six and no timeouts. He got the score on the Bengals final play of regulation, finding Ja’Marr Chase on the right sideline for a game-tying touchdown.

But the Bengals didn’t make the extra point.

In overtime, Burrow led a 64-yard drive to set up another game-winning field goal with perfect passes to Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine. McPherson missed again following a high snap by Wilcox.

Every game for the last 14 years, whether it was a breakthrough game by Andy Dalton or a record-setting game by Burrow, Harris was the constant. Harris’ importance has never been as obvious as it was on Sunday.

The Bengals entered the game as favorites in the AFC North, and their slow start by the offense was the reason it was still a close game at the end.

On Sunday at Paycor Stadium, Burrow faced a 14-point deficit, a Pittsburgh Steelers scheme he was struggling to figure out and a defensive line that the Bengals couldn’t block.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins was out with a concussion. Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt was looking like the best defensive player in football. Burrow threw two interceptions on plays where he didn’t see a Steelers defensive back.

It was all sorts of adversity, and that was before the Bengals lost their long snapper.

Early on, Burrow was trying to do too much. On his first pass of the season, Burrow had four open receivers. But with pressure in his face from the left side of the pocket, Burrow tried to step up and force a pass to Tyler Boyd. He was double covered, and Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick jumped the route for a pick six that gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead.

On the next drive, the Bengals had third down in Steelers territory. Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams allowed pressure on a drive-ending sack against Burrow. One series later, Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith beat Williams again for a strip sack fumble and another Bengals turnover.

Burrow threw two more interceptions in the second quarter. On one of them, he felt pressure and threw the ball right to Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt. Then Burrow forced a throw to Boyd, who had three defenders around him, and got picked off again.

Burrow played his worst half with the Bengals. The only offense that worked in the first half was quick passes to Chase and a few first down runs by Joe Mixon, and the Bengals trailed 17-6 at halftime.

The Bengals made it a 17-14 game in the third quarter following a touchdown throw at the goal line from Burrow to Tyler Boyd, and they tied it in the fourth quarter. But the turnovers and missed field goals were too much for the Bengals to overcome.

This story was written by our media partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer.