The Steelers became the 21st team in the Super Bowl era to start 9-0 after posting a 36-10 win over the visiting Bengals on Sunday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 333 yards with four touchdown passes, propelling Pittsburgh to its 11th straight win over Cincinnati (2-6-1).
Roethlisberger's touchdown total on Sunday was his highest in a game since he had five touchdown passes in Pittsburgh's win over Carolina in Week 10 of the 2018 season. For his career, Roethlisberger is 26-7 against the Bengals and 22-2 against rookie quarterbacks. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked four times while recording his third lowest passing output of the season. Two of those sacks were by T.J. Watt, who led a Steelers' defense that held the Bengals to an 0-of-13 mark on third down.
Down 12-0 in the first quarter, the Bengals found pay dirt after Burrow hit fellow rookie Tee Higgins on a two-yard pass on fourth-and-goal. Pittsburgh responded with consecutive scoring drives that included Roethlisberger's eight-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger threw for 243 yards in the first half, while Diontae Johnson caught six passes for 116 yards in the first half, including his 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
The Steelers ended any hopes of a Bengals comeback when Roethlisberger's 11-yard touchdown pass to Claypool capped off a 12-play third quarter scoring drive. In the fourth quarter, a 45-yard punt return by Ray-Ray McCloud set up Claypool's second touchdown, a five-yard pass from Roethlisberger. Cincinnati closed out the scoring on a Randy Bullock field goal that was set up by safety Shaun Williams' 39-yard run on a fake punt.
Here's a closer look at how Pittsburgh managed to stay undefeated.
Why the Steelers won
Pittsburgh enjoyed a vintage performance from Roethlisberger, who did not practice until Saturday after spending the week on Pittsburgh's reserve/COVID-19 list. Roethlisberger, who is one of the favorites to win Comeback Player of the Year, threw for over 300 yards for the second straight week and third time this season. Through nine games, Roethlisberger has thrown 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
Pittsburgh's defense also put forth a dominant effort, led by Watt, fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Joe Haden. The Steelers' defense minimized Joe Burrow's success downfield, as Burrow was often forced to check down and settle for short completions.
The Steelers' running game continues to be a cause for concern for Pittsburgh, however, as the Steelers rushed for less than 50 yards for a third straight game.
Why the Bengals lost
Cincinnati's offense went 0 of 11 on third down during the game's first three quarters. Cincinnati once again relied too much on Burrow, who attempted at least 40 passes for the fourth time this season. The Bengals' offense did enjoy another solid statistical game from Higgins, who caught seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown that included a 54-yard pass to set up the Bengals' only touchdown.
While they managed to hold the Steelers to two early field goals, the Bengals' defense was unable to sustain their early success against Pittsburgh's formidable passing attack. Cincinnati's special teams also had a night to forget, suffering a lost fumble in the first quarter (which led to Pittsburgh's first points, a 41-yard field goal by Chris Boswell) and allowing McCloud's 45-yard return in the fourth quarter. They did somewhat save face when Williams executed the team's fake punt late in the game.
After allowing a second quarter touchdown, the Steelers responded with consecutive scoring drives to take a 15-point halftime lead. A big play during that sequence was Claypool's 15-yard catch on a third and six play that led to Johnson's touchdown reception. Pittsburgh was never seriously threatened again, extending its lead to 22 points midway through the third quarter.
Plays of the game
Each of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes were impressive, but his third-quarter touchdown pass to Claypool takes the cake. Roethlisberger had to thread the needle between multiple defenders, while Claypool was able to make the difficult catch in traffic. The sixth receiver taken in the 2020 draft, Claypool now has nine touchdowns through nine games.
But let's not forget about Higgins' 54-yard catch, which was the longest play of the game for either team. The catch also set up his second-quarter touchdown.
Higgins finished the game with 115 yards on seven receptions. The fourth receiver selected in this year's draft, Higgins is on pace to break the 1,000-yard receiving barrier for the season.
"We're a balanced group. We can give it to you however you want it. If you want to pack a bunch of people on the line of scrimmage, then we're going to throw it. You play two high safeties, we're capable of running it. And that's what I mean when I say we strive to be a balanced group. We want to be able to move it however, however we choose or maybe over-commitments from defenses that dictate it, we're OK with that too." -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin when asked if he is getting a little concerned with Pittsburgh's running game
"I just played terrible in the second half. I missed a lot of throws that I usually make, and that was the game. I missed a lot of throws in the second half." -- Burrow on what the Steelers defense did to have success against him
The Steelers will head to Jacksonville for a matchup between two old AFC Central rivals. The Jaguars fell to 1-8 after dropping a close game in Green Bay on Sunday. Cincinnati will travel to face Washington, which fell to 2-7 after its comeback fell short in Detroit. In defeat, Washington received a stellar game from quarterback Alex Smith, whose 390 passing yards helped Washington tie the score with 16 seconds left after trailing 24-3.
To re-live Sunday's Bengals-Steelers action in real time, check out our live blow below.