PITTSBURGH — The Bengals won the AFC last season by being road warriors in January. Cincinnati, rocking its white helmets on the road for the first time on Sunday, showcased that same resolve Sunday by coming into Pittsburgh and leaving with a 37-30 win that was not as close as the final score would indicate.
The win improves the Bengals to 6-4 while giving them their first win in four games against divisional foes. The loss drops the Steelers to 3-7 and into a last-place tie with Cleveland in the AFC North standings.
Joe Burrow, 10 weeks after throwing four interceptions against the Steelers, threw four touchdowns on Sunday that included three to running back Samaje Perine. Burrow also had a field day throwing to wideout Tee Higgins, who caught nine passes for a career-high 148 yards. Burrow and Co. Overcame the loss of running back Joe Mixon, who left the game early with a head injury.
The Bengals enjoyed a fast start by Burrow, whose two touchdown passes to Perine gave the Bengals a 17-10 lead with 6:38 remaining before halftime. On consecutive drives, Burrow completed each of his 11 passes, including four completions to Higgins on Cincinnati’s third scoring drive of the half.
Pittsburgh’s offense also had a successful first half. Najee Harris ran for 56 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown that tied the score two minutes into the second quarter. After Burrow’s second touchdown to Perine, Kenny Pickett responded by throwing a 24-yard, game-tying scoring strike to fellow rookie George Pickens. The Steelers took a 20-17 halftime lead on Matthew Wright’s 30-yard field goal on the final play of the half. The score was set up by Levi Wallace’s pick of Burrow after the pass was tipped by Robert Spillane.
Cincinnati dominated the third quarter and took a 27-23 lead into the final stanza. The Bengals took the lead after Burrow threw his third touchdown pass of the day, a one-yard strike to Trenton Irwin midway through the quarter. TJ Watt’s pick of Burrow moments later set up the Steelers’ only score of the quarter.
The Bengals took a double-digit lead after Burrow hit Perine for the quarterback’s fourth touchdown of the day with 4:30 left. Pittsburgh made things somewhat interesting when Harris scored from a yard out with 45 seconds left, but the Steelers’ comeback hopes quickly expired when the Bengals pounced on the onside kick.
Here’s a closer look at what transpired from Pittsburgh.
Why the Bengals won
Quite simply, Burrow was phenomenal. Playing without Ja’Marr Chase and losing Joe Mixon during the game, Burrow made several clutch throws while leading the Bengals to their first win this season against a divisional foe. Burrow had a field day getting the ball to Higgins, who extracted a measure of revenge after leaving the Bengals’ Week 1 loss to the Steelers early with an injury. Burrow also enjoyed a successful partnership with Perine, who stepped up with Mixon out of the game.
Cincinnati’s defense also clamped down in the second half. The unit came up with a big stop following Watt’s third-quarter interception that gave the Steelers the ball deep in Bengals territory. Cincinnati held Pittsburgh to a field goal and did not allow the Steelers to reach the red zone for the remainder of the game.
Why the Steelers lost
The Steelers had no answer for Burrow and Higgins, who teamed up for the game-clinching score when Cincinnati won in Pittsburgh in 2021. Pittsburgh’s defense didn’t get much help from its offense, which hurt itself in the second half by committing self- inflicted penalties. Pickett didn’t have much success throwing to anyone sans Pickens and Pat Freiermuth. The loss of Jaylen Warren — who suffered a hamstring injury early in the game — didn’t help matters. Pittsburgh had just 139 yards in the second half, with most of those yards coming after the game had been decided.
Watt’s interception gave the Steelers life after the Bengals took a third-quarter lead. With the ball on the Bengals’ 21-yard-line, Pittsburgh went three-and-out while settling for a short field goal that cut their deficit to a point.
The Steelers still had life after their defense forced a Bengals punt on their ensuing drive. But after reaching the Bengals’ 39-yard-line (following a 33-yard completion from Pickett to Pickens), a third-down sack by Trey Hendrickson led to a Steelers punt. That served to be the Steelers’ last serious scoring threat.
Play of the game
Watt’s pick was eye-popping, but Tyler Boyd’s 15-yard catch midway through the fourth quarter helped ice the game for the Bengals. The catch, which occurred with the Bengals facing a second-and-12 from Pittsburgh’s 36-yard-line, helped set up Burrow’s fourth touchdown pass and third to Perine. It was the first catch of the day for Boyd, a Pittsburgh native who starred collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh.
“That was awesome. One of my favorite wins since I’ve been here. Lot of adversity. AFC North game. Bad weather. Cold, windy. We fought through, found a way to win.” — Burrow on his third win over the Steelers and second in Pittsburgh
The Bengals will head to Nashville for a rematch of Cincinnati’s thrilling divisional round playoff win this past January. After an 0-2 start, the Titans are now 7-3 behind the running of Derrick Henry and the league’s seventh-ranked scoring defense. The Bengals are hoping to have Chase back after the Pro Bowl wideout missed the last three games with a hip injury.
Pittsburgh will head to Indianapolis for a Monday night showdown against the Colts. The Colts recently made noise after replacing Frank Reich with interim head coach Jeff Saturday, who quickly re-inserted Matt Ryan back into the starting lineup. Indianapolis led the one-loss Eagles for most of Sunday’s game before Philadelphia rallied for a one-point win.