Bengals' offense out of sync in loss to Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- It's not enough for the Cincinnati Bengals to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers these days.

Now it's almost a guarantee it'll occur in an odd or gut-wrenching fashion.

For the second consecutive game, a last-minute fumble ended the Bengals' chances of defeating their bitter rival. The Bengals lost 24-16 after Tyler Boyd fumbled a catch with less than a minute remaining in the game.

The Bengals (1-1, 0-1 AFC North), trailing the Steelers (2-0, 1-0 AFC North) by eight points, were putting together one of their few positive offensive drives of the game thanks to a three-and-out forced by the defense to give them a chance.

Andy Dalton found Boyd over the middle on the Steelers' 39-yard line. Boyd grabbed the pass, took half a step, then appeared to slip and lose the ball on the wet field. The Steelers recovered the fumble to seal the game.

There was a question as to whether Boyd's knee was down, but the officials upheld the ruling after review.

It wasn't quite at the level of the loss in the AFC wild-card game -- a game that ended with Jeremy Hill fumbling in the final minute on a rainy night. But it was the third straight loss for the Bengals to Pittsburgh, beginning with a matchup in December that saw them lose Dalton to injury.

That the Bengals were in the game late at all was surprising. For the second straight game, the Bengals failed to run the ball efficiently, finishing with only 46 yards on the ground.

And while Dalton had a mostly clean pocket on Sunday after being sacked seven times in Week 1, he looked out of sync with his receivers all day. Dalton finished 31-of-54 for 366 yards, one touchdown and an 84.3 quarterback rating.

For the second straight week, Dalton's gaudy numbers glossed over an inconsistent day offensively. The Bengals could not get into the end zone until late in the fourth quarter when Dalton found Giovani Bernard for a short pass that Bernard turned into a 25-yard score.

Perhaps the Bengals miss former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who left in the offseason to become the head coach of the Browns. Maybe they miss wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who left in free agency, or tight end Tyler Eifert, who is hurt and has not yet played.

Whatever it is, the offense hasn’t looked the same. Two games is a small sample size, sure, but things aren’t any easier with the Broncos' defense coming to town next week.

Denver was relentless last week against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the league MVP last season. It’s unlikely the Broncos will be kind to Dalton, either.

The Bengals' offensive woes were disguised to an extent against the Jets last week thanks to A.J. Green’s big day against Darrelle Revis. Most of the offense was generated through a few big plays. When it came to moving the chains, the Bengals were only 3-of-11 on third down against New York.

It would be easy to sweep that aside as first-game jitters, but the stats looked even worse on Sunday. The Bengals were 4-of-16 on third down. Green was essentially a nonfactor, catching only two passes for 38 yards.

Troubling, yes, but it wasn't all doom and gloom. The defense continued to show that it can make big plays. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick each had interceptions, and the Bengals essentially shut down Antonio Brown (four catches for 39 yards).

That's the second straight week of big plays from the defense. Last week, cornerback Josh Shaw picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick to seal the Bengals' win over the Jets.

Even with an offense that hasn't played consistently for 60 minutes, the defense has continued to keep the team in the game.

The Bengals won't have much time to dwell on this one. They host the Broncos at home in Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.