- Between the Antonio Brown drama, Le'Veon Bell's holdout and mediocre play on the field, it's been a dizzying season so far for the Steelers. But the team re-established itself with a much-needed win in Cincinnati.
Where else would Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers get back to looking like their old selves but in Cincinnati? Entering Sunday, Pittsburgh had won its past five games at Paul Brown Stadium with an undefeated streak dating back to 2013. In his 16 career trips to Cincinnati, Roethlisberger walked away with wins in 14 of them.
It’s been no secret the Steelers have struggled on and off the field this season. Entering Sunday they didn’t have a win against a team with a winning record. Each week seems to bring a new controversy surrounding Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell has talked to ESPN more recently than he has anyone within Steelers’ management.
And so the 2-2-1 Steelers squared off with their division rivals in desperate need of a win versus a quality opponent to get their season back on track, and Pittsburgh topped Cincinnati 28-21 on a last-minute Antonio Brown touchdown. In a game where Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and co had the opportunity to make a statement, the team instead showed us the same ol’ Bengals.
Sunday’s win involved great offensive line play, no mistakes from Roethlisberger, Brown remaining calm with little usage through halftime and a defensive effort that held a solid Bengals offense to less than 300 yards of total offense. Roethlisberger threw for 369 yards while completing 32 of his 46 passes. His biggest, and most controversial throw, was his last. Down by a point with the ball at the Cincinnati 31 and 15 seconds remaining, the Steelers didn’t want to leave the game in the hands (or on the foot) of kicker Chris Boswell, who had missed three field goals and three extra points entering the game.
Pittsburgh, who had prepared for a Bengals’ blitz and guessed right, ran a pick play with Justin Hunter and Brown that would free up Brown inside. But Hunter delivered what looked less like a pick and more like a downfield block on Bengals cornerback Tony McRae, taking McRae back about three yards downfield with the block (one can only block within one yard of the line of scrimmage) before Brown had secured the catch. Brown then sped away for the 31-yard score to secure the win.
It has taken Brown a while to heat up this season. He didn’t have a 100-yard receiving game until last week’s win against Atlanta, and he didn’t eclipse the mark Sunday until the final touchdown as he finished the game with 105 receiving yards.
Brown got off to a slow start against the Bengals. He was targeted just twice in the first half with only one catchable pass, and at halftime he had one catch for nine yards—on pace for his fewest yards, catches and targets of the season. But on Pittsburgh’s first second-half possession, Roethlisberger targeted his top receiver three times in his first six throws to get Brown in rhythm.
James Conner, the running back that’s proven to be far more than just a capable backup to Bell, had 19 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns, but it should have been three scores. Conner appeared to cross the goal line with possession midway through the third quarter. The officials ruled him down at the one and coach Mike Tomlin, who was down to just one challenge after a failed one in the first half, opted against throwing the red flag there.
The Bengals clamped down and kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone as the Steelers settled for a field goal. Had the Steelers lost this game, the decision against challenging would have been something Tomlin would have had to answer for.
Presumably Brown, Roethlisberger and Tomlin are pleased going into next week’s bye having righted the ship in Cincinnati. These Steelers may never be without controversy in the air (and possibly even more coming next week with Bell reportedly set to return after the bye), but for the first time this year they’re above .500 in what has become football’s most competitive division.
All signs point to one thing—the Steelers are back.