Pittsburgh wins Defensive Affiar in Cincy
CINCINNATI – November 26, 2023 (bengals.com)
On a rainy, chilly Sunday at Paycor Stadium, the Steelers hallmark defense and revived offense spoiled Bengals quarterback Jake Browning’s first NFL start with a 16-10 victory in a critical AFC North game.
While the 7-4 Steelers took over the game late with their first 400-yard game in 59 games, the defense constantly pressured Browning with four sacks as he finished 19 of 26 for 227 yards for a 96.2 passer rating that was solid but not good enough to outduel Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Pickett dominated on third down when he converted eight of 16 on his way to 278 yards for the second most of his career.
The 5-6 Bengals cut the lead to 16-10 with 2:04 left on Evan McPherson’s 47-yard field goal, but the Steelers covered the ensuing on-side kick.
In a game pitting the NFL’s No. 1 team in turnover differential (the Steelers) and the team tied for third (the Bengals), Browning knew he had to stay away from the big turnover.
It didn’t happen on the always key first series of the second half. With the Bengals leading 7-3 against the NFL’s No. 28 offense, they had a great shot for huge points. But on third-and-seven from the Steelers 18 (they got down there on wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s contested 25-yard catch), Browning took a shot at Chase in the flat and safety Trenton Thompson was out there buzzing and undercut the route for Browning’s first NFL interception.
As the Steelers always seem to do, they made it bleed and reeled off a crushing 14-play touchdown drive to take a 10-7 lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter. In his first game with a new offensive coordinator, Pickett converted three third downs on short passes, two of them to the inscrutable tight Pat end Freiermuth on his out-of-the-blue 100-yard day. The last one converted a third-and-six with safety Dax Hill draped on Freiermuth and set up running back Najee Harris’ touchdown run.
Penalties didn’t help Browning on the ensuing drive. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. was called for a holding and on the ensuing third-and-two, Browning’s three-yard slant to slot receiver Tyler Boyd was wiped out by tight end Tanner Hudson’s pick. On the next third-down snap, Browning, pausing before throwing into the zone, got sacked by the Hall of Fame exhibit of Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt.
Then the Steelers went up 13-7 on another drive they couldn’t get off the off the field on third down. On third-and-eight, Pickett hit wide receiver Diontae Johnson over the middle in front of slot cornerback Mike Hilton and then went to wide receiver George Pickens behind Hilton for 43 yards on third-and-nine.
Rookie cornerback D.J. Turner forced a field goal with a nice third down play when he knocked the ball away from Diontae Johnson at the goal line with about eight minutes left in the game.
Abiotfee thurd and nine in front of slot cornerback Mike Hilton
Chase had three targets in the first half with two catches for 42 yards and he made a remarkable play on the lone scoring drive of the half.
Steelers linebacker Mykal Walker leaped and deflected a pass in the middle of the field and, just like what happened to the Bengals last week in Baltimore, Chase grabbed the rebound and took off for a 31-yard play. Then out of a double tight-end look, Browning faked to Mixon, rolled left and flipped a screen on the sideline to his old University of Washington teammate, tight end Drew Sample.
Sample followed tight end Mitchell Wilcox into the end zone for his second touchdown of the season and the third of his five-year career.
It gave the Bengals a 7-3 lead with 10:30 left in the first half after Browning hit all four of his passes in the drive.
Then Browning channeled his best Burrow and stepped out of a certain sack as he moved to his left and then lofted a 25-yarder to wide receiver Trenton Irwin down the middle. And they got 15 more when Watt leveled Browning late.
So the Bengals had the ball at the Steelers 48 at the two-minute warning. But it took them 15 seconds on three incompletions to punt into the end zone instead of the ideal scenario, which was to put up points and then get the ball on the second-half kickoff.
But the Bengals defense, which gave up some big plays early, finished it off to force the fourth Steelers’ punt of the half. Tackle B.J Hill, who forded a holding call on the previous play, got to Pickett on third down after rookie edge Myles Murphy got there first.
Browning finished the half nine of 12 for 101 yards and while Mixon had five carries for 13 yards, the Steelers outgained them 221-98.
The big play continued to haunt the Bengals defense after allowing 13 pass plays of at least 20 yards in the previous two games. They allowed three in the first 16 minutes, the last one coming on Pickett’s terrific 39-yard throw down the right sideline to wide receiver Diontae Johnson despite good coverage by rookie cornerback D.J. Turner.
They were tussling with tight end Pat Freiermuth and his 89-yard half after he came in with a total of 60 yards during an injury-plagued season.
But the Bengals had answers.
On third-and-two in the Bengals red zone, tackle Zach Carter and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither stoned Warren and Carter swatted the ball to force a fumble gobbled up by Turner for a 28-yard return to the Bengals 39.
On the first series, former Steelers Mike Hillton picked up his fourth tackle for a loss this season when he was all over a screen to Diontae Johnson and forced a punt. Hilton, the former Steeler and a Bengals captain on Sunday with Pittsburgh native Tyler Boyd, was all over the place in the half with five tackles, two for a loss.
While Pickett was 13 of 19 for 150 yards, the Bengals did a good job containing the run game to 79 yards.