PITTSBURGH (AP) — Different quarterback. Same result.
Mason Rudolph threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns to pick up his first victory while filling in for Ben Roethlisberger as the Pittsburgh Steelers easily handled the Cincinnati Bengals 27-3 on Monday night.
Rudolph completed 24 of 28 passes, most of them quick hitters that allowed the Steelers to control the clock. He connected with James Conner on a delayed screen for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter, then broke the game open with a 43-yard heave to rookie Diontae Johnson midway through the third as the Steelers (1-3) won their ninth straight over the Bengals (0-4).
Jaylen Samuels ran for 26 yards and a touchdown, caught eight passes for 57 yards and was even credited with three completions — in reality “pop” passes to teammates in motion that traveled all of three feet — while working out of the Wildcat formation as Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner opened up his playbook to help the Steelers avoid just their second 0-4 start in 51 years.
Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor became the second first-year coach to drop his first four games with the Bengals. Sam Wyche started 0-5 in 1984 but helped his team rebound to an 8-8 finish. Taylor’s task of getting Cincinnati back to respectability will be far harder if he can’t figure out a way to protect quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton spent a significant portion of the night under heavy duress. The Steelers sacked him eight times, picked him off once and forced a second-quarter fumble that halted a second-quarter drive in Pittsburgh territory when the game was still in doubt. Dalton finished 21 of 37 for 171 yards. Tyler Boyd, elevated to the No. 1 receiver while A.J. Green recovers from ankle surgery, was held to three receptions for 33 yards on the same field where he starred in college at Pitt.
Rudolph set records at Oklahoma State by stretching the field while running Mike Gundy’s “air raid” offense. He was uneven at best in his first career start last week in San Francisco after being thrust into the gig for the rest of the season while Roethlisberger rehabs a right elbow issue that required season-ending surgery. He was considerably sharper against Cincinnati, though he wasn’t asked to do much other than find the closest open man —usually Conner or Samuels — and keep the sticks moving.
Conner and Samuels touched the ball on all five snaps of a second-quarter drive that ended with Conner taking a flip from Rudolph and knifing his way into the end zone to give the Steelers a 7-3 lead. They touched it four times on an eight-play drive to start the third quarter, the final snap turning into a 2-yard touchdown run by Samuels after he lined up in the shotgun.
Two Dalton incompletions sandwiched around a sack forced Cincinnati to punt. Kevin Huber’s shank set Pittsburgh up at the Cincinnati 43 and on second down Rudolph finally went deep, lofting the ball to a wide-open Johnson, who caught it at the Cincinnati 5 and walked into the end zone for his second touchdown in two weeks to give the Steelers a 24-3 lead.
Bengals: WR John Ross III left in the third quarter with a right-shoulder injury. … LT Cordy Glenn missed his fourth straight game while recovering from a concussion and Cincinnati’s protection problems continued. The Bengals have now surrendered 19 sacks through four games.
Steelers: TE Vance McDonald sat out with a right shoulder injury. Nick Vannett, acquired in a trade with Seattle last week, started and caught two passes for 28 yards. … DE Cam Heyward dealt with a thigh injury that left him limping off the field at times, though he still managed his first sack of the season.
Bengals: Host Arizona next Sunday. The Cardinals won the last meeting, 34-31, in 2015.
Steelers: Welcome AFC North rival Baltimore to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The teams split the season series last year, both winning at home.