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Week 14 Bengals vs Steelers: AJ McCarron proves biggest winner in loss, injuries account for biggest losers

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This was expected to be an offensive shootout, but it turned into a bad afternoon for the Bengals thanks to an onslaught of injuries that plagued the Bengals.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that was marred with injuries, penalties, missed opportunities and potentially the worst thing that could have happened to the Bengals: Andy Dalton going down with a thumb injury.

Here's a look at the winners and losers from the Bengals' loss to the Steelers.

Winners

AJ McCarron
While it wasn't a good thing for the Bengals when Andy Dalton went down with an injury, it threw backup quarterback AJ McCarron into the game and he didn't do too bad.

This certainly wasn't how McCarron envisioned his first real NFL action, but he managed to do enough to show he's at least capable of being a backup in this league, something that's never a sure thing until you play real snaps in a real game, not in the preseason.

McCarron also threw his first NFL touchdown, which was a beauty.

Again, this isn't a good winner for the Bengals, but at least McCarron has some real experience now. He's probably going to need it next week and perhaps for the next few weeks to come.

A.J. Green
Even without Andy Dalton, A.J. Green wasn't about to get stopped in this game. He was a beast and made several tough grabs to try and keep the Bengals in the game. He was up to 100 yards early in the third quarter, reaching that mark for the 22nd time in his career.

Green finished with a game-high 132 receiving yards on six catches to go with his one score. It was good to see him continue to fight hard and keep Cincinnati afloat for much of this game, and he's going to have to be at his best to help carry this offense if Eifert and Dalton are out next week or in any following weeks.

Carlos Dunlap
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has finally reached the elusive double-digit sack mark. Dunlap came into this game with 9.5 sacks this season, which tied his previous career-high set back in 2010. He picked up sack No. 10.5 with his third-quarter takedown of Ben Roethlisberger.

That was a key play in this game as it forced the Steelers to punt when the score was still within striking distance for the Bengals. Dunlap is also still in contention for the NFL-lead in sacks as he'll likely remain in the top five sack-leaders as Week 14 ends.

Reggie Nelson
The Bengals' defense played admirably against a red-hot Steelers offense without Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert for much of the game, and the play of safety Reggie Nelson aided that effort. Nelson helped limit the Steelers' big plays and helped hold them to just 19 offensive points through the first 55 minutes of the game.

Nelson also gave the Bengals the ball in the final six minutes within 13 points thanks to his NFL-high eighth interception of the season and his fifth-straight game with a pick.

Nelson is having a monster year and should get paid handsomely this offseason when he hits free agency in March.

Losers

The Bengals
'Ouch' might be the best way to describe this game. Not only did an onslaught of injuries cripple the Bengals, but it may have hurt their chances of making a deep playoff run if Dalton misses significant time.

Not only did the Bengals lose this game, they've allowed the Steelers to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Bengals have also taken a big blow to earning one of the top two seeds in the AFC.

Tyler Eifert
Coming into this season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Bengals was if Tyler Eifert was durable enough to make it through a 16-game season. Injuries limited him to just 16 games over his first two seasons, but he made it through the first 12 weeks of this season without an injury.

That changed when he experienced a stringer against the Rams which kept him out last week against the Browns. When he returned against the Steelers this week, he left the game early with a concussion after taking a big hit across the middle from Mike Mitchell. The injury concerns with Eifert are now starting to creep back in. But most importantly, we wish Eifert a speedy recovery.

Andy Dalton
This was supposed to be the year Andy Dalton showed that he's not only a franchise quarterback, but someone capable of taking this franchise on a deep postseason run. He accomplished the first, but the latter may go unanswered with Dalton suffering what appears to be a serious injury to his hand.

Dalton has never missed a game in his NFL career, but that's going to change next week against the 49ers, as Marvin Lewis has already said Dalton will not play next week. If this is the end of his season, it will go down as the best of Dalton's career, though it will have ended on a major sour note.