Big Steelers’ Turnover Carries Day Against Bengals, 16-10

Big Steelers' Turnover Carries Day Against Bengals, 16-10
© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ legendary defense and revitalized offense marred Bengals quarterback Jake Browning’s maiden NFL start on a soggy, frigid Sunday at Paycor Stadium, as they prevailed 16-10 in a crucial AFC North match.

The defense continuously pressured Browning with four sacks as he finished 19 of 26 for 227 yards for a 96.2 passer rating, which was good but not good enough to outduel Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. The 7-4 Steelers took the lead late in the game with their first 400-yard game in 59 games with 421.

With eight of his sixteen conversions on third down before the kneel down, Pickett dominated and finished with 278 yards, the second-most of his career.

With 2:04 remaining, Evan McPherson’s 47-yard field goal gave the 5-6 Bengals a 16-10 lead; however, the Steelers recovered the on-side kick that followed.

Browning knew he had to avoid the huge turnover in a game between the NFL’s top-ranked team in turnover differential (the Steelers) and the team tied for third (the Bengals).

It did not occur during the second half’s crucial opening series. The Bengals had a fantastic opportunity to score big points with a 7-3 lead on the NFL’s No. 28 offense. However, Browning took a shot at wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the flat on third-and-seven from the Steelers 18 (they got down there on wide receiver Chase’s contested 25-yard catch against Joey Porter Jr.). Safety Trenton Thompson was out there buzzing and undercut the route for Browning’s first NFL interception.

With 1:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Steelers, doing what they do best, made it bleed and put together a devastating 14-play touchdown drive to grab a 10-7 lead. Pickett completed three third downs on short passes in his first game under a new offensive coordinator; two of those passes went to the mysterious Pat Freiermuth, a tight end who had an unexpected 120-yard day. With safety Dax Hill stumbling over Freiermuth, the final one resulted in a third-and-six conversion and set up a touchdown run by running back Najee Harris.

Penalties had no effect on Browning’s subsequent drive. Tight end Tanner Hudson’s pick intercepted tight end Browning’s three-yard slant to slot receiver Tyler Boyd on third-and-two after tight end Irv Smith Jr. was flagged for a holding. The following third-down play, Browning hesitated to pass into the zone and was sacked by Hall of Famer Cam Heyward.

Then, on another drive in which the Bengals were unable to get off the field on third down, the Steelers took a 13-7 lead. In front of slot cornerback Mike Hilton on third-and-nine, Pickett connected wide receiver Diontae Johnson over the middle. On third-and-eight, he went to wide receiver George Pickens, who gained 43 yards, behind Hilton.

With almost eight minutes remaining in the game, rookie cornerback D.J. Turner swatted the ball away from Diontae Johnson at the goal line, forcing a field goal with a superb third down play.

After having three targets and two receptions for 42 yards in the first half, Chase finished with four receptions for 81 yards, including a spectacular play on the only scoring drive of the half.

In the middle of the field, Steelers linebacker Mykal Walker sprang and deflected a ball. Similar to what happened to the Bengals in Baltimore last week, Chase recovered the rebound and ran for a 31-yard play. Then, feigning a double tight end look, Browning rolled left, faked to Mixon, and flipped a screen to tight end Drew Sample, an old teammate from the University of Washington.

Sample scored his second touchdown of the year and his third in his five-year career in the end zone by trailing tight end Mitchell Wilcox into the end zone.

With 10:30 remaining in the first half, Browning completed all four of his throws for a 7-3 Bengals lead.

Then, channeling his best Joe Burrow, Browning shifted to his left, stepped out of a specific sack, and lofted a 25-yard pass down the middle to wide receiver Trenton Irwin. And when T.J. Watt leveled Browning late, they added fifteen more.

At the two-minute warning, the Bengals were in possession of the ball at the Steelers 48. However, instead of scoring points and then getting the ball on the second-half kickoff, they had to punt into the end zone after three incompletions that took 15 seconds.

However, after giving up a few big plays in the first half, the Bengals’ defense closed it out to force the fourth punt of the half from the Steelers. On third down, tackle B.J. Hill—who had earlier evaded a holding call—got to Pickett after freshman edge Myles Murphy got there first.

While running back Joe Mixon had five carries for 13 yards before finishing with eight for 16, Browning finished the half nine of twelve for 101 yards. The Steelers outgained them, 221-98, in the half to outgain a team for the first time this season.

Following two games in which the Bengals’ defense had given up 13 pass plays of at least 20 yards, the big play persisted in haunting them. They gave up three in the opening sixteen minutes, the last coming on a fantastic 39-yard pass from Pickett to wide receiver Diontae Johnson along the right sideline, despite D.J. Turner providing strong coverage.

Along with Freiermuth, they were battling through an injury-plagued season that saw him enter with a total of 60 yards following his 89-yard half.

However, the Bengals’ defense had solutions and calmed down long enough to allow them a chance late in the contest.

Tackle Zach Carter and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither stopped running back Jaylen Warren on a third-and-two in the Bengals red zone. Carter then slapped the ball to force a fumble that Turner picked up, giving the Bengals a 28-yard return to the 39-yard line.

During the opening series, Hilton—a former Steeler—gained his fourth tackle for a loss this year after forcing a punt by being all over a screen to Diontae Johnson. With five tackles in the first half, including two for a loss, Hilton—a Bengals captain on Sunday—was all over the place alongside Pittsburgh native Tyler Boyd.

The Bengals were successful in keeping the run game to 79 yards before the Steelers took the lead and finished with 153, even though Pickett was 13 of 19 for 150 yards.

Credits: Bengals

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