To call this matchup a rivalry is disrespectful to actual rivalries. The Bengals’ latest feeble attempt to take down their Ohio River neighbors ended in a 36-10 slaughtering in which all three units looked completely overmatched.
A few players played decently for the visiting team, but this week’s winners and losers feature more bad than good.
Tee Higgins: Just as the Bengals’ offense was starting to move the ball, Higgins put the ball on the ground at the end of the first quarter. He followed his first career fumble with a 54-yard reception and a fourth-down touchdown on the very next drive. Higgins finished the game with 115 yards on seven catches and would’ve had more if Joe Burrow hadn’t missed him on a deep ball early in the third quarter.
Hakeem Adeniji and Quinton Spain: The Bengals’ starting offensive line wasn’t revealed until the offense took the field for the first time, and it featured Adeniji at left tackle and Spain at right tackle. It was Adeniji’s second-career start and the first time Spain had played tackle since his college days, and both played fairly well against a great Steelers’ pass rush.
Vonn Bell: Two of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdowns targeted the Bengals’ strong safety in coverage. Bell also fell down when covering Eric Ebron on a third down that extended one of the drives that ended in one of those touchdowns. Whenever Bell has been forced to play deep coverage, the results have not been pretty.
Tony Brown: Injuries forced Brown onto the field on Sunday, and he looked like a cornerback that hadn’t played all year. He had a bad missed tackle on Diontae Johnson’s first quarter touchdown and allowed a third-and-10 catch and conversion to Chase Claypool later in the game. There were some vertical routes that Brown covered well, but he made too many mistakes for someone who started the whole game to make.
William Jackson III: The Bengals needed a dominant performance from Jackson, and he did not deliver. Jackson was burned deep by Diontae Johnson for 46 yards and the first big play of the game. That deep shot was immediately followed by the game’s first touchdown and put the Bengals down 12-0 before the first quarter concluded. Jackson was later called for pass interference in the red zone on a drive that ended in a touchdown.
Alex Redmond: The Bengals wanted Redmond starting at right guard for continuity purposes, and they got a classic Redmond performance. His critical holding penalty on a second-and-short paved the way for Burrow to get sacked on third-and-12 in the second quarter. Later in the period, he was late to recognize a T.J. Watt stunt and allowed a sack of his own.
Alex Erickson: It was an abysmal day for the Bengals’ punt returner. Erickson fumbled at the end of his first punt return, which allowed the Steelers to score the first points of the game. He made bad judgement calls when deciding whether to call for a fair catch or not the entire game. This was a performance that gets you fired.
A.J. Green: So much for that temporary revival in October. Green’s catch-less day fit the theme of his 10th season much more than how he looked in the previous three weeks.
Darrin Simmons: The fake punt was fun, but before five minutes came off of the game clock, the Bengals had a fumbled punt return, a fumbled kickoff return that was mercifully called a touchback, and a delay of game penalty on a punt. Simmons is just as responsible for the unit being unprepared as the players are for the sloppy play.
Zac Taylor: Why was Joe Burrow in the game that late? Burrow originally hurt his ankle right before halftime and looked off ever since. For Taylor to leave Burrow in late in the fourth quarter was terribly irresponsible and Burrow hurt his ankle again long after the game was decided.
And then Burrow CAME BACK INTO THE GAME FOR THE FINAL DRIVE. If anything happens to the Bengals’ franchise quarterback, there is nothing standing in the way of Taylor facing the appropriate consequences.