Thanks for following along with us today. Not much to write about in the second half after such a dominant first half by the Bengals. Cincinnati fans can watch the Ravens-Browns tonight with the hope of a Browns win giving them first place in the North. The Steelers don't have time to look in the rearview mirror, as Pittsburgh hosts the Ravens next Sunday at Heinz Field.
Sunday had a changing of the guard feeling in Cincinnati, as the Bengals ran roughshod over the visiting Steelers, a team that for decades had been a thorn in Cincinnati's side. Cincinnati parlayed a 31-3 halftime lead into a 41-10 blowout victory.
The 31-point win matched Cincinnati's largest ever margin of victory over Pittsburgh. Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh by the same score back in Week 2 of the 1989 season. The victory marked the Bengals' first three-game winning streak over the Steelers since 1990 and Cincinnati's first season sweep of Pittsburgh since 2009. Most important, the win moved the Bengals to 7-4 and in sole possession of second place in the AFC North division standings. The Steelers, winless in their last three games, fell to 5-5-1.
Cincinnati didn't waste any time on Sunday, as Joe Burrow capped off the Bengals' first drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. After both teams traded field goals, Burrow hit Tee Higgins for a 32-yard score at the start of the second quarter. Cincinnati's next drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon, who ran for 117 of his 165 yards in the first half. The teams then traded interceptions, but the Bengals' pick was returned 24 yards for a score by former Pittsburgh cornerback Mike Hilton, who scored Cincinnati's third touchdown of the second quarter.
Burrow went 20 of 24 passing before leaving the game four minutes into the fourth quarter. Higgins led both teams with 114 yards on six receptions. Mixon, who also exited the game early, extended the Bengals' lead to 38 points on his one-yard touchdown run two minutes into the fourth quarter. The Steelers didn't score their first touchdown until Ben Roethlisberger hit rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth on a 15-yard completion with 2:59 left.
Here's a closer look at what transpired in Cincinnati on Sunday.
Why the Bengals won
Cincinnati immediately got its running game going with Mixon, who ran for 49 yards on the Bengals' opening drive. For the game, the Bengals out-rushed the Steelers, 198-51. Mixon's success on the ground opened things up for Burrow and the Bengals' passing attack. Burrow, who is now 2-1 against the Steelers, continuously picked on James Pierre, who started in place of injured starter Joe Haden. Burrow also converted on several third-and-long situations on Cincinnati's fourth scoring drive, a drive that extended the Bengals' lead to 24-3.
The Bengals' defense, which played with a lead throughout the contest, quickly made Pittsburgh's offense one-dimensional. Najee Harris, who caught 14 passes for 102 yards during Pittsburgh's Week 3 loss against Cincinnati, had just 15 yards on five carries during the first half and finished the game with just 23 yards on eight carries. Cincinnati's defense also came up with two first half interceptions of Roethlisberger that led to 10 points. Trey Hendrickson's forced fumble of Roethlisberger in the third quarter set up Evan McPherson's second field goal of the contest.
Why the Steelers lost
Pittsburgh was thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line was no match for the Bengals' talented defensive front, led by Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Without a running game, the Steelers relied far too much on Roethlisberger, who was bedeviled several times in the first half by Chase Claypool. While the duo's 41-yard throw-and-catch set up Pittsburgh's only score of the first half, miscommunication between Roethlisberger and Claypool on Pittsburgh's first possession resulted in Eli Apple's interception that led to a Bengals field goal. Claypool ended the Steelers' fourth possession with a dropped a third-down pass from Roethlisberger.
The Steelers' secondary had no match for Burrow, who continuously picked on Pierre, who was making just his fourth career start. Pittsburgh also continues to struggle against the run. A week after allowing 90 rushing yards from Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, the Steelers allowed the Bengals to rumble for 125 on the ground in the first half alone. The losses of linemen Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt has clearly hurt the Steelers' defense.
While they were trailing 24-3, the Steelers got the ball back with 2:43 left in the half. A score at that point would have been a big boost before halftime, considering that Pittsburgh would start the second half with the ball. After picking up nine yards on the drive's first three plays, Claypool bobbled Roethlisberger's slant pass before a hit by safety Jessie Bates III jarred the ball loose for an incomplete pass. The Steelers punted on the next play, and Hilton's pick-six moments later essentially ended the contest.
Play of the game
Hilton, who signed with the Bengals this offseason following a solid tenure with the Steelers, essentially iced the game with his pick-six with 30 seconds left until halftime. A former undrafted rookie who joined the Steelers late in the 2016 season, Hilton stepped in front of former teammate James Washington before waltzing untouched into the end zone.
"I thought that we got beat up front on both sides of the ball. They won the line of scrimmage, and when you win the line of scrimmage, the game has a chance to look like that. … We stunk it up today." -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who said he and his staff will "certainly" look at making changes on both the offensive and defensive lines
"There were a lot of good things that happened. Burrow was efficient with the ball and made good decisions. … Defensively, to create all of those turnovers, especially Eli, right off the bat getting those three points. Mike Hilton capturing the momentum at the end of the half. … Just really an all-around team effort." -- Bengals coach Zac Taylor, whose team is off to its best start since 2015
The Steelers will host the Ravens at Heinz Field next Sunday. Pittsburgh swept the series last year after the Ravens swept the season series in 2019. The Steelers are 1-1 against Lamar Jackson, who has yet to have a big game against Pittsburgh. The Bengals will host the Chargers, who were 6-4 prior Sunday's road game against the Broncos.