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Steelers defeat Bengals, 16-10

Third-year tight end Pat Freiermuth hadn't been a major factor in the Steelers' passing game early in this season.

A hamstring injury that cost him five games and some difficult matchups left Freiermuth with just nine receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the five games he had played this season.

Sunday against the Bengals, Freiermuth reminded everyone of just how important a piece to the Steelers' offense he can be.

Freiermuth caught nine passes for 120 yards – his first career 100-yard game – and the Steelers defense clamped down on Cincinnati's offense, which was playing without star quarterback Joe Burrow, to record a 16-10 victory here at Paycor Stadium.

With running backs coach Eddie Faulkner having replaced offensive coordinator Matt Canada earlier in the week and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan calling the plays, the Steelers outgained an opponent for the first time this season, rolling up 421 yards, compared to 222 for the Bengals. Cincinnati started Jake Browning at quarterback.

"I thought we spread the ball around. We changed up things schematically, launch points," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "I thought we attacked down the field early when they were in split safeties. We weren't going to let them sit comfortably in that all day."

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

Making his first career start, Browning, who has been in the NFL since 2019, threw for 227 yards, but the Bengals (5-6) couldn't run the football, gaining just 25 yards on the ground.

The Steelers (7-4) sacked him four times, including two by T.J. Watt, who became the second-fastest player in NFL history to record 90 sacks in his career. Watt reached that total in 97 career games. Reggie White did it in 82 games.

Cam Heyward also recorded a sack on Browning, giving him 13.5 sacks in his career against the Bengals, the most for any opponent in Cincinnati's history.

Despite that advantage in yardage and on defense, the Steelers had issues punching the ball into the end zone.

The Steelers were on the move on their second possession after driving to the Cincinnati 43 on their opening series. But Diontae Johnson was ruled to not have maintained possession of the football through the ground on what would have been a 15-yard touchdown pass despite taking three steps with the ball in his hands before being taken to the ground. Then, one play later on third-and-2, Jaylen Warren fumbled and cornerback D.J. Turner recovered the loose ball, returning it to the Cincinnati 39 to turn the Steelers away.

The Steelers forced a punt, but got the ball back at their own 11. Najee Harris had a 20-yard bruising run, getting caught in a scrum after a 5-yard gain, but continuing to churn his legs, and Pickett connected with Johnson on a 39-yard pass down the sideline to set up a 41-yard Chris Boswell field goal.

But Boswell's squib on the ensuing kickoff was picked up by Trayveon Williams and returned 46 yards to the Cincinnati 47 to give the Bengals good starting position.

Cincinnati then caught a break as Steelers linebacker Mykal Walker leaped to tip a pass over the middle. The ball flipped into the air and was grabbed by wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who went 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 16.

That set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Browning to tight end Drew Sample on a catch-and-run as the Bengals took a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.

The Bengals had the opening possession of the third quarter and marched to the Pittsburgh 18. But on third-and-7, Browning attempted a short out pass to Chase that Trenton Thompson picked off for his first career interception, returning it 6 yards to the 21.

The Steelers methodically marched downfield after that, with Freiermuth catching a pair of third-down passes to keep them on the field and score on a 5-yard touchdown run by Harris to take a 10-7 lead with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter.

Pickens was injured trying to catch a deep ball down the sideline early in the fourth quarter, leaving the game for a handful of plays while he regained his composure.

But upon his return, Pickett connected with him for a 43-yard gain to the Cincinnati 20 to set up a 34-yard Boswell field goal that increased the Steelers' lead to 13-7 with 8:03 remaining.

The Steelers forced a three-and-out by the Bengals – punctuated by a Watt sack on third down – and quickly moved into range for a 33-yard field goal by Boswell that put them ahead by two scores at 16-7 with 2:51 remaining in the game.

The Bengals hit a 39-yard screen pass to Joe Mixon on their next possession for a gain of to set up a 47-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to cut the Steelers' lead to 16-10 just before the two-minute warning, but Pickens recovered an onside kick and the Steelers ran out the clock from there.

Pickett threw for a season-high 278 yards in the game.

"I thought we did a good job of coming together and staying together in a time of adversity and getting a win on the road, a big AFC North victory," said Pickett. "It feels good."