STEELERS 33, BENGALS 20
Steelers' record: 8-5
One year ago: 8-5
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 57-34
Series record in Cincinnati (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 27-19
The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Paul Brown Stadium for an AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
STATS THAT STOOD OUT FROM FIRST MEETING**
In what turned out to be a 16-10 victory for the Bengals over the Steelers on Nov. 1 at Heinz Field, the Steelers offense converted 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third downs, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times, the Steelers had three turnovers and were minus-1 in turnover ratio, they were 1-for-3 in the red zone, and Roethlisberger's passer rating was a sub-par 57.8.
THE COMPARABLE STATS FROM THE SECOND MEETING
In what was a 33-20 victory for the Steelers in Cincinnati, the offense converted 8-of-14 (57 percent) on third down, Roethlisberger was sacked twice, the Steelers offense had one turnover and the team finished plus-2 in turnover ratio, they were 2-for-3 in the red zone, and Roethlisberger's passer rating was 85.6.
This is the way Coach Mike Tomlin saw being important to the outcome of the game in the run-up to it: "We have to not let the environment become a major factor. We have to communicate. We can't have self-inflicted wounds due to the environment – false starts on offense and things of that nature. We have to do a great job of communicating and steadying the waters from that regard. Then ultimately, it's about winning the one-on-one matchups. There are going to be times where Heath Miller is going to be matched up against Carlos Dunlap, and we expect him to win. There are going to be times when our defensive backs are going to be matched against their wide receivers, and we need to win our share of those, and vice versa. The individual matchups are really highlighted when the teams are highly familiar, like we are with them and they are with us. It's about the ability of Lawrence Timmons to defeat Giovani Bernard when we blitz him. It's about Lawrence's ability to cover Giovani Bernard when they release him and we have Lawrence in coverage. Those individual matchups – and I could continue on – are ultimately going to decide the outcome of this game."
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT**
The Steelers didn't commit those pre-snap penalties, but they did have to burn a couple of timeouts to save themselves from delay of game penalties through the first quarter-and-a-half.
The amount of chippiness in the game was an issue even before the opening kickoff. During warm-ups, it appeared that Vontaze Burfict head-butted Vince Williams, which touched off a lot of milling around and some pushing and shoving. But even though the officials were on the field and therefore should have witnessed the whole thing, there were no penalties assessed nor players ejected. Penalties were the one area where the Steelers likely fell short of Tomlin's expectations. They were flagged five times for 82 yards, with a couple of personal fouls and an excessive celebration included in theit total.
The run defense limited the Bengals to 64 yards and a 4.0 average, and only A.J. Green posted significant numbers, with six catches for 132 yards including a 66-yard touchdown.
DIVISION RACE UPDATE
With the victory, the Steelers prevented the Bengals from clinching the AFC North, but even after winning they remain two games behind the Bengals (8-5 vs. 10-3) with three games to play. What could provide some hope were the number of players Cincinnati had sustain injuries, and the apparent severity of those.
Quarterback Andy Dalton left the game after the Bengals' opening offensive possession, and he returned to the sideline with a cast on his right hand. His injury was announced as one to his right (throwing) thumb, and the only other quarterback on their roster is A.J. McCarron. The Bengals finish with games at San Francisco, at Denver, and then at home vs. the Ravens.
Even if the Steelers would finish in a tie with the Bengals, Cincinnati would have to have one of their losses be in that finale vs. the Ravens, because tiebreaker No. 2 for teams within the same division is division record. The Steelers have lost twice to AFC North teams, while the Bengals have only one such defeat – to the Steelers.
Tiebreaker No. 3 for teams within the same division is best won-loss-tied percentage in common games. There still are too many moving parts involved there, but the Bengals have wins over two teams that defeated the Steelers – Kansas City and Seattle – and one of Cincinnati's losses was to Houston, a team not on the Steelers' schedule.
And so, even with this win, it remains an extreme long shot for the Steelers to enter these playoffs as anything but a Wild Card.