TThe latest installment of the Steelers-Bengals rivalry was an anxious thriller, even for those who had no interest in either team. A display of football mastery for the ages, it wasn’t. But Pittsburgh’s 23-20 overtime win had more twists and turns than an entire season of Stranger Things.
So there were some important takeaways, starting with TJ Watt and the ferocious defensive bullying of an improved Bengals offensive line. Joe Burrow was tackled a whopping seven times: Watt single-handedly collected a sack, an interception and three tackles for loss (defensive player of the year would later leave the field in fear of being torn).
As for the man so often on the ground on Sunday, well, if we hadn’t seen Burrow at SoFi Stadium in February with our own eyes, it would be hard to believe he started in the last Super Bowl. At least for the first half. Yes, Burrow wasn’t given much time to spend but when he did, his accuracy and decision-making were not without merit. He was not able to adjust until the second half when he became a resource of his vision, and released faster.
It also helped Cincinnati that the Steelers offense seemed to lose its pulse in the second half. The Steelers were always going to be conservative with Mitch Trubisky starting at quarterback, but three points and less than 100 total yards in the second half is inexcusable.
Luckisky for Trubisky, he still got the chance to play hero thanks to a bevy of missed opportunities by the Bengals, starting with Zak Taylor not challenging when a clear touchdown Ja’Marr Chase ruled incomplete with just over 2:00 left in regulation . Living with the unchallenged can make our brains explode – Taylor said after the game Chase was in a tough part of the field to see – but that’s a very polite way to describe the fool.
Taylor’s gaffe set off a wild streak that made Trubisky look like Ben Roethlsiberger in his prime as he led the Steelers from their own 20 to the game-winning field goal.
It also resulted in a new respect for Clark Harris and his ilk. C’mon, you really haven’t heard of Harris until Sunday or even now? For the uninitiated, Harris is the Bengals’ long snapper. He is a well-oiled machine, along with holder Kevin Huber and kicker Evan McPherson, each a cog that must be precise. Harris with the right-angled jump from seven yards, Huber with a perfect grip and McPherson with the perfect foot. That was the team that was on the field for McPherson’s incredible kicking streak last season, as well as McPherson’s 59-yarder in the first quarter on Sunday.
Then Harris suffered a biceps injury and poor Mitchell Wilcox (usually the team’s reserve) had to step in. Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked McPherson’s extra point that would seal the win. Then his 29-yard field goal that would seal the victory again in overtime was successful.
McPherson, to his credit, was diplomatic about the failed field goal attempt: “The operation was fine. I just missed it,” he said. It’s nice to say that but with Harris touching the ball, the operation is Seriously fine, and the Bengals Seriously win
Long snappers aren’t just essential for special teams. They are the coolest dudes in the locker room, and the good ones are models of longevity. Jon Dorenbus is a professional magician who made it to the finals of America’s Got Talent.. Longtime Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach was the second-oldest NFL player (behind a certain quarterback) when he retired in 2020. He also used it to cut a banana into 17 pieces ahead on every game and did the same air drum solo. before running out of the tunnel. With all due respect to offensive linemen, these are the guys you want to have a beer with. There are endless fun facts about long snappers but no one knows them because they have always been in the shadows.
Until now. Harris’ absence shows just how vital a skilled long snapper is to the kicking operation. For the Bengals, it was the difference between a win and a loss.
MVP of the week
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs. It’s safe to say Mahomes will be fine without Tyreek Hill. In a 44-21 rout of the Arizona Cardinals, Mahomes was 30-of-39 for 360 yards passing, five touchdowns and no interceptions. All four quarters were a bold reminder that no one has ever played the position like Mahomes. No one is close to his tool bag. And to boot, he earns the honors of good teammates for running over to grab the football used by rookie Isiah Pacheco to score his first touchdown.
Quote of the week
“He is a man of his word. He told us he was going to be aggressive … He did exactly that” – Giants running back Saquon Barkley has his new head coach, Brian Daboll.
Down 13-0 at halftime to the Titans, the Giants came out a new team in the second half. Daboll made the adjustments that successful coaches make. But he also did something few coaches do, he bet on his players. After a 13-play drive that resulted in a touchdown with a minute left, Daboll had an option. Go to one to tie it or two to win. Daboll later revealed that he had intended to win all along, and his gamble paid off. Barkley caught a shovel pass in the end zone and ran to his coach with a grin to match the moment. Finally, the Giants feel like a winner.
“McDonald’s nuts will need a wheelbarrow to carry them around” – Dolphins all over Tyreek Hill on head coach Mike McDaniel.
Daboll wasn’t the only one who earned immediate humor from his players. It’s hard to argue with the outcome of McDaniel’s rare decision to go ahead on fourth-and-seven with 24 seconds left in the first half.
Video of the week
Not only did rookie Cade York’s game-winning 58-yard field goal seal an emotional victory for the Browns over Baker Mayfield (OH, and the rest of the Panthers too), it ended one of the streaks the NFL is a disgrace. The Browns won their first season opener in 18 years. Seriously. York won’t have to buy a meal in Cleveland anytime soon.
The situation of the week
61-10. That’s how much Green Bay has accomplished in the openers over the past two seasons.
Given that Green Bay made the finals last year and the NFC championship the year before, it’s safe to say they won’t be too worried about Sunday’s 23-7 loss to the Vikings.
Elsewhere throughout the series
— Chicago’s Matt Eberflus joined the party of rookie head coaches who won in Week 1. It looked like it was going to be a long day for the Bears after San Francisco jumped out to a 7-0 lead and continued Chicago went ahead after the screen was called on third down. and longs in the first half. But Trey Lance and the 49ers offense struggled to generate anything in the heavy downpour at Soldier Field. Justin Fields was the better quarterback on Sunday, showing arm strength on a beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to former 49er Dante Pettis. As for Lance, there will be an inevitable, and very unfair, consideration this week about whether the team should return Jimmy Garoppolo.
— Josh McDaniels didn’t win his head coaching game in Las Vegas in large part because Justin Herbert is so good at football. Herbert picked up where he left off last season, except this time his team beat the Raiders 24-19. I’m still not over the exclusion of the Chargers from the playoffs last season.
— Notable performances from Sunday: Saquon Barkley with 164 rushing yards, a touchdown and the aforementioned two-point conversion | Davante Adams in his Raiders debut: 10 receptions, 141 yards and a touchdown| Justin Jefferson, nine receptions, 184 yards and two scores | Jonathan Taylor, 161 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown AJ Brown in his Eagles debut, 10 receptions and 155 receiving yards (128 of them in the first half and mostly rushing).
– New Colts quarterback Matt Ryan passed for 352 yards and a touchdown in just a 20-20 tie against a Texans team he should have beaten. Links in soccer: acceptable. Connections in the NFL: barf.
– Too late to change my Super Bowl pick to Buffalo? I would be remiss not to mention the NFL opener featured Josh Allen picking apart the Rams defense with pass accuracy (83.9% completion rate), smart reads, and force. Conversely, brash Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey played just like he did in the Super Bowl: pedestrian and beatable.
– This must be about some seedy Dan Snyder business venture, no?
— When you finish, hug your nearest long snapper.