Pittsburgh Edges Out Cincinnati in Brutal Monday Night Matchup

We all know what to expect when these two teams take the field, so this matchup did not disappoint as it was loaded with a ton of controversy and was very reminiscent of the Wild Card game just a couple seasons ago. Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown for a nice 20-yard gain to set the tone early. It was obvious AB wanted to play through his toe injury at all costs, mentioning to a reporter before the game just how sore his toe was. Unfortunately this drive did not end well for the Steelers as Big Ben was pressured by Vontaze Burfict coming up the middle and Ben threw an interception to Adam Jones on a ball intended for Xavier Grimble. The game was already getting chippy when Le’Veon Bell was called for unnecessary roughness as he and Vontaze Burfict were getting under one another’s skin early on. Andy Dalton and the Bengal’s offense would take over and they got off to a nice start as Dalton found tight end Tyler Kroft for a 19-yard gain. The most notable play on this drive took the air right out of Pittsburgh as Ryan Shazier suffered a scary injury as he lead with his head while tackling Bengal’s wide receiver Josh Malone. Shazier immediately grabbed at his lower back and winced in pain, most concerning was that it appeared that he couldn’t move the lower half of his body. Shazier had to be taken to the hospital immediately and Steeler’s players, fans, and coaching staff had to wait anxiously to hear any of news on the prized player. Tyler Matakevich would take over for the injured Shazier, but Shazier is an irreplacable piece to a very young and talented Pittsburgh defensive unit. This drive would ultimately end with a Randy Bullock field goal to put Cincinnati up 3 to 0. It was Big Ben and the offense’s turn to try to put some numbers on the board, but it was very obvious after Shazier went down the team’s mental toughness would be greatly tested. Ben found AB numerous times on the drive, adding completions to Juju Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, but it was not enough to get anything going as the punting unit would come out to end the drive. It was Dalton and the offense again looking to add to their small lead, and rookie running back Joe Mixon would do much of the damage for Cincinnati to set up Dalton to A.J. Green 8-yard touchdown. Bengals now lead the Steelers 10 to 0.

Roethlisberger and the offense looked to get something going to make up for a lackluster first quarter, but unfortunately the offensive woes continued. Ben found Martavis for a nice gain of 15 yards, but a Carlos Dunlap sack on Ben would lead to yet another Jordan Berry punt. The Steelers were trying to overcome adversity, as they were clearly distracted by what had happened to Ryan Shazier and rightfully so. The Cincinnati offense would take over and looked to build upon their success from their last drive. Thankfully with some solid play by Tyler Matakevich and the defense, the Bengals would be forced to punt. On this drive, it was Le’Veon Bell trying to get things going for Pittsburgh, but yet again, not enough was done and Berry would come onto the field again for another punt. It was hard to watch as Pittsburgh clearly did not look like a team coming off of a 6-game win streak, they looked lost for much of the first half. Bengals would have the ball again, and on the first play of the drive, linebackers Vinny Williams and Bud Dupree stopped Joe Mixon on a nice run, but this time it was a Bengals player that would leave the game. Mixon took a hard hit and appeared unconscious as he was face down on the field, but would walk off under his own power. Mixon later would be announced out for the remainder of the game. Bengals backup Giovani Bernard filled in admirably for Mixon as he often exploited Pittsburgh’s run defense without Shazier on the field. Andy Dalton found his favorite target A.J. Green several times on the drive, and it was Green again who would find his way into the end-zone, this time on a 15-yard connection from Dalton. It was now a 17 to 0 Cincinnati lead. With less than a minute left in the half, Pittsburgh looked to do whatever it took just to get some kind of points on the board. Ben found Bell for a much needed 33-yard gain and Bell wisely made his way out of bounds to stop the clock. On the very next play, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was called for defensive pass interference on a pass intended for Antonio Brown. This would set Chris Boswell up for a 30-yard field goal, as he looked to build off perfect career stats against Cincinnati and that he did. At the end of the first half Cincinnati leads Pittsburgh 17 to 3.

The Bengals would start out on offense to begin the half, and it took only 3 plays for Pittsburgh to force a punt and look to build off of the momentum they had at the end of the first half. Le’Veon Bell slashed his way through the defense as he got going early. It was ultimately Bell who would score the first touchdown of the game for Pittsburgh as he took a checkdown all the way from 35 yards out, and Cincinnati defenders literally watched it happen. Just what was William Jackson looking at?

The Steelers would now chip away at Cincinnati’s lead making the score 10 to 17. The Bengals next offensive drive looked to take the wind right out Pittsburghs sails on what looked to be a huge 61-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to you guessed it, A.J. Green. Not so fast, Giovani Bernard would be called for holding on T.J. Watt to negate the long touchdown. Bengals would do enough damage on the ground with Bernard and a connection from Dalton to wide receiver Brandon LaFell to set up Cincinnati for another field goal, this time Bullock would knock one through from 41 yards out. Cincinnati would reclaim a two-score lead, now 20 to 10 over Pittsburgh. It was Pittsburgh’s turn to answer back and it appeared as though they did immediately, as Martavis Bryant would return the kick for a 96-yard touchdown, but just like A.J. Green’s would-be score, this one was also called back. This time safety J.J. Wilcox would be at the wrong end of an offensive holding penalty to bring the ball all the way back for Pittsburgh. On this drive, it was rookie running back James Conner who would get some touches as he looked sharp and ran the ball well. After two Pittsburgh penalties, this drive would result with Jordan Berry punting again. The third quarter would end with Cincinnati still leading over Pittsburgh, 20 to 10.

Cincinnati’s offense looked to feature Bernard heavily on this drive, but on 3rd and 6, it was pressure by Vinny Williams to force Dalton to throw the ball away and end this drive forcing the Bengals to punt. Pittsburgh’s offense looked great on the next drive as Bell ran the ball nicely and Ben connected with the almighty AB for 15 yards. The Steelers would then face 4th and 1, and it was not a matter of whether to go for it or not, it was how to convert on short yardage. Ben handed the ball off to Bell and he took the run for a nice 9-yard gain. It was a deep ball intended for Martavis Bryant that did a great deal of damage, as Dre Kirkpatrick was once again called for pass interference. Pittsburgh now found themselves in Cincinnati territory, but Pittsburgh would have to settle for a field goal on this drive. Boswell would continue his perfection against Cincy and hit one from 37 yards this time. Now a 13 to 20, Bengals lead. Vinny Williams and the defense looked to lock down Dalton and the Bengals and that they did. Williams sacked Dalton for an 8-yard loss, and another Giovani Bernard penalty would force Cincinnati to punt again. On the next Pittsburgh drive, things got extraordinarily rough. As Big Ben found Bell for a nice gain of 12 yards, and Juju Smith Schuster would lay down an absolutely devastating block on the controversial linebacker, Vontaze Burfict.

Of course, the block was illegal as was Juju standing over Burfict after the block, so naturally the ball would come back from the spot Bell was downed. The Steelers didn’t take long to capitalize on the controversy as Ben connected with AB downfield for 24 yards, and on the next play found Bell for a nice 18-yard gain. Steelers would then face 3rd and 5 where Ben found Jesse James for his first reception of the game to convert on 3rd down. It was ultimately AB’s time to shine as he made yet another unbelievable catch, but more impressively was able to hold on after taking an illegal helmet to helmet hit delivered by Bengal’s safety George Iloka.

We now have a tie game, 20 to 20. The Steelers defense really looked to pick up things for the injured Ryan Shazier, as Vinny Williams stepped up tremendously and Bud Dupree sacked Dalton for a 3 yard loss. Bengals would be forced to punt again due to stellar defense by Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell and the offense showed great mental toughness as Bell stood nearly frozen in time behind the offensive line, waiting for the right hole to open up on a nice gain for Pittsburgh. Bell continued to build on his excellent performance and Ben would connect with Bryant and Smith-Schuster to further make their way down field. There was no way to not recall last week’s game against Green Bay as Pittsburgh looked to Chris Boswell to be their savior once again. In Cincinnati fashion they added even more penalty yards to their record setting day as a defensive offsides would bring the total penalty yards for Cincinnati to 173, a new franchise record. Boswell’s field goal attempt would thus shrink by 5 yards and The Wizard of Boz would strike again, leading Pittsburgh to their 7th straight win with a 23 to 20 victory over Cincinnati.

The Steelers overcame a world of adversity and showed how important it is to be a mentally sound team as they continue to succeed this season. After Ryan Shazier was taken off on a stretcher, the team and fans felt a proverbial punch to the gut that took a long time to recover from. Although they kept Shazier in their thoughts throughout the game, they knew they needed to win this game for him.

The top performers for Pittsburgh were Ben Roethlisberger who finished the game completing 24 of 40 passes for 290 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and one interception. Big Ben also eclipsed the 50,000 yard mark for passing yards in this game. Le’Veon Bell dominated this game in every aspect as he finished on the ground with 18 carries for 76 yards, but also lead the team in receiving yards with 5 receptions for 106 yards and added a receiving touchdown to his impressive performance. Antonio Brown finished the game with yet another 100 yard game with 101 yards on a team-leading 8 receptions and had a clutch touchdown as well. Antonio Brown now has what is considered the best 5-year stretch passing the Hall of Famer, Marvin Harrison as he now has with 561 receptions and 7,611 yards over this stretch to this date. On the defensive end, Vinny Williams stepped up in a big way as he totaled 9 tackles and added a sack to his performance.

Pittsburgh faces Baltimore at home on Sunday night, but the Steelers will most likely be without Juju Smith-Schuster as he faces a one game suspension, as well as Ryan Shazier who we all imagine will miss some time. Get well soon, Mr. Shazier.

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