ANALYSIS: 3 takeaways from Bengals’ blowout loss to Steelers

Jake Browning had the offense moving much better than the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his three interceptions prevented the Cincinnati Bengals from being able to put more points on the board.

Pittsburgh took advantage of the turnovers to score 17 of its points en route to a 34-11 win over the Bengals on Saturday at Acrisure Stadium, ending a three-game losing streak and preventing the visitors from extending their win streak to four games.

Both teams are now 8-7, but Cincinnati doesn’t have an AFC North win yet and was swept by the Steelers and Ravens this season. The Bengals travel to play defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City on Dec. 31 and host the Browns in the finale.

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Pittsburgh exploits weaknesses

Cincinnati was prepared for Pittsburgh to try to run the ball up the middle, where the loss of nose guard DJ Reader would be an obvious weakness, but the Steelers were able to catch the Bengals on their heels on three plays of 44 yards or more – two for touchdowns.

Pittsburgh, using third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph in his first start since 2021, found success with a mix of explosives and a running game that accounted for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

All three of those 40-plus-yard passes went to George Pickens, the first one being for 86 yards on the second play for Pittsburgh’s offense. Pickens’ 66-yard touchdown catch came in the third quarter, right after the Bengals seemed to be picking up some momentum after a stop the first drive of the half and an 80-yard touchdown pass from Browning to Tee Higgins.

The defensive backs have struggled with explosive plays all season, especially since Cam Taylor-Britt has been out with an ankle injury the past four games. Pittsburgh targeted rookie DJ Turner but veteran Chidobe Awuzie struggled as well.

Cincinnati struggled to replace Reader but attempted to with five defensive linemen to start the game, including Josh Tupou in the middle with Zach Carter and B.J. Hill on his sides. Najee Harris ran for 78 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown with a long carry of 13 yards.

2. Browning up and down

Take away the three bad interceptions, and Browning played much better than the first time against the Steelers when the offense struggled to move the ball at all. Cincinnati converted six of 13 third downs and finished with 368 yards of offense, compared to the two third-down conversions managed in the first game with 10 attempts.

Browning finished with 335 yards passing, compared to Rudolph’s 290 yards. Two of Rudolph’s drives started in Bengals territory, thanks to interceptions.

The first interception Browning threw came in the end zone as the Bengals had a chance to at least get three points on the board after Pittsburgh had just taken the 7-0 on the second drive of the game. Browning said in his postgame press conference, which was streamed live on the team’s social media accounts, that he was just trying to throw the ball away on that one and it ended up going right to Patrick Peterson.

The second one happened at Cincinnati’s 14-yard line on a pass intended for Tyler Boyd. The Steelers scored touchdowns on both those ensuing drives. The third pick was intercepted at the Bengals’ 43-yard line and led to a field goal.

Cincinnati was playing its first game this season without Ja’Marr Chase, but Tee Higgins finished with 140 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Ten different players caught passes. The Bengals went heavy at defensive tackle and made Irv Smith Jr. a healthy scratch. Andrei Iosivas had some big plays amid his four catches for 36 yards but a 22-yard grab at the sideline was challenged and reversed. Cincinnati settled for a field goal that drive.

3. Playoff hopes take hit

It’s too early in the weekend to know how the Bengals’ playoff chances are impacted by the loss, but it’s likely they have to win their last two and get help to have a chance. They entered the weekend in the No. 6 spot coming off three straight wins, but being 0-5 in the AFC North impacts the tiebreak scenarios. For now, Cincinnati moves down to the No. 10 spot in the AFC playoff picture.

Pittsburgh moves from No. 10 to No. 9.

The Bengals had been unbeaten in December and were 11-3 in December and January games since 2021. They also had been favored going into the game, as Pittsburgh was without both its starting safeties and had a total of five safeties out or questionable.

Rudolph, the third-string quarterback behind Trubisky and injured Kenny Pickett, hadn’t won a game since 2019 – doing so twice against the Bengals, though he was benched at halftime of the second meeting for Duck Hodges. The Steelers hadn’t scored more than 26 points in a game this season and already had fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada right before the last matchup in Cincinnati.


Sunday, Dec. 31

Bengals at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

About the Author