PITTSBURGH (AP)Ben Roethlisberger apparently doesn’t need to practice to carve up the Cincinnati Bengals.
The veteran Pittsburgh quarterback threw for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns despite being forced to stay away from the team facility all week due to COVID-19 protocols and the Steelers stayed unbeaten with a 36-10 victory over the Bengals on Sunday.
Roethlisberger, one of four Steelers put on the COVID-19 list last Monday following contact tracing after tight end Vance McDonald tested positive for the novel coronavirus, completed 27 of 46 passes on a blustery afternoon at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger connected with Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster for touchdowns in the first half and found rookie Chase Claypool twice in the second half as Pittsburgh improved to 9-0.
Cincinnati rookie quarterback Joe Burrow struggled to generate any momentum behind a patchwork offensive line. Two weeks after a promising victory over Tennessee, the Bengals (2-6-1) were reminded how much work remains to be done under second-year head coach Zac Taylor. Cincinnati went 0 for 13 on third down and Burrow spent much of the second half under duress. T.J. Watt collected two of Pittsburgh’s four sacks as the Steelers won their 11th straight meeting with their division rival.
Pittsburgh has put together the best start in franchise history largely by outlasting opponents instead of overwhelming them. Three straight escapes on the road – the last a nail-biter in Dallas last weekend in which the Steelers were outplayed for long stretches – put Pittsburgh in the rare position of having to defend the NFL’s best record.
The team’s first brush with COVID-19 led to an air of uncertainty while Roethlisberger and linebacker Vince Williams spent the week participating in meetings over their iPads and trading texts with the coaching staff to get a better feel of the game plan. Roethlisberger joked he put in some time as a pre-Kindergarten teacher to his three kids and not-so jokingly admitted he slept in a separate bedroom from his wife as a precaution.
The disrupted routine hardly seemed to faze him. Following a sluggish start in which the Steelers mustered one first down in their first three drives despite having the wind at their backs, Roethlisberger went to work.
Three straight completions – including a 46-yard rainbow to Johnson – took the Steelers 74 yards in three plays, the last a strike to Johnson that put Pittsburgh up 12-0.
Burrow directed a 90-yard touchdown drive when the teams switched ends, hitting Tee Higgins with a 2-yard score on fourth down to draw the Bengals within 12-7, but Cincinnati would get no closer. Roethlisberger responded by leading a 78-yard drive, zipping a fastball to Smith-Schuster to put the Steelers back up by 12.
Pittsburgh poured it on in the second half despite having little support in the running game. Considering the way Roethlisberger was throwing, it hardly mattered. Touchdown passes of 5 and 11 yards to Claypool blew it open.
Bengals: Lost CB Mackensie Alexander to a concussion in the first quarter.
Steelers: DT Tyson Alualu returned from a knee injury but Pittsburgh’s run defense continued to have issues. The Steelers allowed Cincinnati to run for 139 yards without starter Joe Mixon.
Bengals: Visit Washington next week. The Bengals haven’t lost to Washington since 1991 (3-0-1).
Steelers: Travel to Jacksonville next Sunday to take on the Jaguars.
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