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After Further Review: Tough day in Cincinnati

The bright spot, if there was one, is we didn't have to wait until the post-mortem to get to the bottom of Bengals 41, Steelers 10.

Head coach Mike Tomlin, who couldn't have been more direct in recognizing the critical nature of what was about to take place in advance of the Steelers' trip to Cincinnati, was brutally honest in a halftime conversation with CBS sideline reporter Melanie Collins.

"We're getting beaten up in the trenches on both sides of the ball," Tomlin assessed to the CBS audience through Collins. "And until we fix those issues up front on both sides it's a waste of time to discuss any other variables."

The Bengals were leading, 31-3, at the time.

In the third and fourth quarters it was more of the same.

The Bengals rushed for 198 yards to the Steelers' 51.

They possessed the ball for 35:20 to the Steelers' 24:40.

It was run and stop the run all day at Paul Brown Stadium.

All of which rendered moot the usual postgame exchanges and debates regarding nuances such as play-calling and personnel packages and what was or wasn't done at a perceived critical juncture.

On offense, the running game was ineffective early (seven carries, 21 yards in a first half in which the Steelers ran 23 offensive plays) and off the table thereafter because of the deficit the Steelers faced.

Defensive tackle Cam Heyward was, as Tomlin had been in advance, direct in lamenting what went wrong on the defensive side of the ball after the fact.

"Not getting off blocks" and ball carriers who "fell forward almost every single time, it felt like," topped Heyward's list.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon took advantage of the former and personified the latter.

And it doesn't get much more basic than that.

The second-quarter sequence on which Bengals turned a 17-3 advantage into a 24-3 lead was as revealing of how the game was being played as it was damaging in terms of the game remaining competitive.

Beginning with a first-and-10 from the Steelers' 47-yard line, Mixon carried seven consecutive times.

He was contacted behind the line of scrimmage twice, on second-and-1 from the Steelers' 21 on a run that resulted in no gain, and again on second-and-goal from the Steelers' 1 on what ended up becoming a 1-yard touchdown run.

The other five carries went for 9, 8, 9, 9 and 5 yards.

And yes, Mixon fell forward on every one of them.

This wasn't Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert exploiting vacated rush lanes to the tune of 93 yards on six carries (even if the 8-yard spin-and-scramble by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow that opened the scoring looked all too familiar).

This was toss right, toss left, repeat as necessary.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium

Mixon wound up with 165 yards on 28 attempts.

He went for 25 yards the first time he was handed the ball.

He went for 32 yards on his second-to-last carry.

He ran downhill because he could.

"They won that mano-a-mano component of play much too often," Tomlin eventually confirmed at the postgame podium.

Clarity was one thing that wasn't lacking in Cincinnati.

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