The Cincinnati Bengals went into Pittsburgh looking to snap a three game skid against divisional opponents this season, and they walked away with a much-needed win against the Steelers.
As always, it was a hard-fought, physical game, but Cincinnati made just enough plays to pull out win No. 6 and maintain a spot in the Wild Card standings for the NFL Playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s contest.
Samaje Perine: Perine had the most significant offensive impact he’s had all season Sunday. While he wasn’t much of a factor on the ground, he took two screen passes to pay dirt in the first half, accounting for 14 of the Bengals’ 17 points in the first 30 minutes of play. In the second half, Joe Mixon was out with a concussion and Perine took over as the lead back. Perine followed up his first half with a huge touchdown to put the Bengals up 11 points late in the fourth quarter. Perine finished with 11 carries for only 30 yards, but four receptions for 52 yards and three touchdowns. Just a monster performance from an unsung hero of this season, and one that gives the Bengals confidence if Mixon misses time.
Tee Higgins: Higgins once again stepped in to the primary wide receiver role with Ja’Marr Chase sidelined and once again, he delivered. After an incredible sideline catch at the end of the second quarter, early fear was that Higgins was going to have a hip injury of his own, but he was back on the first drive of the second half. Higgins was a steady presence and was able to stretch the field to keep Pittsburgh’s defense honest. He connected with Burrow on a 33-yard hookup to set up a Trenton Irwin touchdown reception to give the Bengals the lead in the third quarter. Higgins finished with nine receptions for 148 yards and carried the workload of a true number one option.
Evan McPherson: McPherson has had some struggles this season, but they don’t seem to have shaken his confidence. After a first quarter drive stalled, McPherson knocked a 45 yard kick through to give the Bengals an early lead. As the third quarter began to draw to a close, McPherson stepped in again, this time hitting from 54 yards out. It was a huge moment in the game, extending the Bengals lead to four as momentum felt to be shifting in Pittsburgh’s favor. With 3:18 in the fourth quarter, McPherson put the cherry on top with a 44-yard field goal to extend the Bengal lead to 14. McPherson finished perfect on the day and looks back to “Money Mac” form.
Trenton Irwin: Irwin didn’t stuff the stat sheet by any means, but his four receptions for 42 yards seemed to come at some big moments. Add in his touchdown reception, and you have a solid day from a depth receiver as an offense deal with their top target being out. Cincinnati will need more performances like this as long as Ja’Marr Chase is out. Chase has yet to return to practice as he recovers from a significant hip injury.
Drue Chrisman: All eyes were on the punter battle in practice this week and Chrisman got his shot Sunday, replacing longtime starter Kevin Huber. Chrisman got off to a great start, handling a less than ideal snap well on Evan McPherson’s field goal in the first quarter. Punting wasn’t as much of a concern for fans leading up to the game, but holding on point afters and field goal attempts was, given how the first matchup went. From a punting standpoint, Chrisman couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. His first punt of the day went for 53 yards and a bobble by Pittsburgh’s returner set them up inside their own 5-yard line. Chrisman finished the game with two more solid punts, ending the day with a 50 yard average on three punts.
Cordell Volson: Week 1 wasn’t kind to Volson against Pittsburgh. In the second go around, Volson played better, but still had a rough day. After a bad rep in the first quarter against Heyward, Volson bounced back quickly and was a key blocker on one of Perine’s two touchdown screens. In the third quarter, Volson missed on a stunt, leading to an Alex Highsmith sack and on the next play, he allowed Heyward to get through again, pressuring Burrow into a throwaway on third down. Unfortunately, that continued, as Heyward again rushed through to sack Burrow on third down again late in the third quarter. The Bengals were forced to settle for a 54-yard field goal. Volson has been trending up since that Week 1 contest, but Pittsburgh’s defensive line took advantage of the rookie once again.
Joe Mixon: Mixon wasn’t able to find the Week 9 magic again Sunday. Before leaving the game with concussion in the third quarter, Mixon was only able to garner 20 rushing yards on seven carries. While injury is never a player’s fault, an opportunity for Mixon to build on his huge game before the bye week never got a chance to get going. We will monitor Mixon’s status this coming week in practice.
Eli Apple: Apple has been boom or bust in his time in Cincinnati and unfortunately, Sunday was the latter. In the second quarter, Pittsburgh receiver George Pickens beat Apple deep for a touchdown where the whole defensive backfield look confused on who to cover. As the fourth quarter got started, he got beat by Pickens again on a go route to extend a Pittsburgh drive. Apple had some solid plays on the day, too, but gave up too many big plays for a defense that sorely misses Chidobe Awuzie.
So, who helped and hurt themselves the most in this one in your eyes? Let us know in the comments section!