The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers came in today needing a win to keep their playoff hopes realistic. It looked like only one team came ready to play, though. It was Jake Browning’s worst game since he started to fill in as the starter for Joe Burrow. The Bengals simply couldn’t overcome it.
The Bengals' offense started with a first down, but they weren’t able to get past midfield. Browning also avoided tossing an interception thanks to tight end Tanner Hudson who helped pull the ball away from a corner who sat on an out-breaking route.
It didn’t take the Steelers long to get on the board. Their second play had Mason Rudolph hit wide receiver George Pickens over the middle. Some sloppy angles from the defense allowed him to get to the end zone for an 86-yard score on just their second play of the game.
The second drive was much more promising for the Bengals as Browning looked in sync. He hit several different receivers and avoided some serious pressure. However, he tried too hard to make something out of nothing in the red zone when he tossed up a prayer as he was running out of bounds on third down. It floated into Patrick Peterson’s hands with no Bengals nearby.
The Steelers turned that turnover into a touchdown on a drive where they really showed they can run for easy yards on this defense. Rudolph also hit Jaylen Warren on a crossing route that picked up a crucial first down. Calvin Austin took a jet sweep in for the touchdown for an early 14-0 lead for Pittsburgh to begin the second quarter.
Browning was able to set up an easy touchdown for the Steelers after tossing another interception, confusing zone coverage for man-to-man. After Rudolph was able to take a hit to get a first down to set them up inside the five-yard line, running back Najee Harris powered it in to get a 21-0 lead.
Tyler Boyd came out on fire to open the next drive for a 29-yard catch-and-run. However, another trip to the red zone ended empty-handed. Cincinnati got to 3rd-and-1 but failed to ever get that yard after Mixon came up inches short, and a toss to Higgins in the end zone was underthrown.
It appeared Cincinnati would at least get the ball back, forcing a 3rd-and-15, but in a half where the Steelers could do no wrong, they hit a 44-yard play to Pickens to set up a field goal before halftime.
Cincinnati at least came out of halftime with some life. The defense got a stop and then Higgins took a slant 80 yards for a score. Browning then was able to flip the ball to Joe Mixon for the two-point conversion to make it a two-score game.
It didn’t last long. On a 3rd-and-short, Rudolph took a shot to Pickens, who burned Chidobe Awuzie for a 66-yard touchdown catch to add to his unexpected day. The extra point made it a 31-8 game.
The Bengals were then able to drive inside the Steelers’ 35 before they failed to convert on a fourth down. The defense got a three-and-out. However, the following Cincinnati drive was only able to end in a field goal. It looked promising as they got into the red zone, but a sack and quick pressure led to a 4th-and-15. The Bengals opted for an Evan McPherson field goal to make it 31-11 as the third quarter ended with a three-score game that wouldn’t require two-point conversions.
It did not matter, though. The defense did their part in getting a 3-and-out, but Browning forced a pass downfield on a play where no one was open. It gave Pittsburgh the ball inside Cincinnati’s territory.
This was a tough night for the Bengals franchise and fans. It makes the possibility of reaching the playoffs minuscule at best. Getting beat by the likes of Rudolph is flat-out embarrassing as well.
The clock seemed to strike midnight on Browning as well as we were reminded that he is no Burrow (as if that should have ever been in questioned). Pittsburgh’s defense clearly had him confused in key moments, and he made quite a few bad decisions forcing passes into coverage that he simply should not have,
There is still a game against the Cleveland Browns to end the season, but even going 0-5 at this point in the AFC North is simply an unacceptable outcome for the year, The standard had been set much higher than that, and you will likely hear this coaching staff and front office talk a lot about it as they go to make moves this offseason.
The Bengals will face the Kansas City Chiefs next week, and hopefully, this team can pull together some sort of effort to make that a respectable game, trying to play the underdog.
Despite this game, all of us here at Cincy Jungle hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas weekend!