By Christina Rivers

Sunday’s week 14 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium was billed as a grudge match. Before the opening kickoff, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict walked over to Vince Williams of the Steelers during warmups and a scrum ensued. Carrying that energy over into the game between these two perennial AFC North powers, both sides played scrappy ball. Pittsburgh was able to hand the Bengals a 33-20 loss in what continues to be an interesting division race. The Steelers put together a franchise-best fifth straight game with at least 30 points and made history on Sunday.

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Steelers offense jumps off early, hangs on to lead

Ben Roethlisberger set the offensive tone early, going eight-for-eight on the opening drive that built a lead the Steelers never relinquished. Roethlisberger completed 30 of 39 passes for 282 yards with one interception as he kept the offense moving. The real story on offense was the play of running back DeAngelo Williams, who rumbled for two touchdowns and was effective out of the backfield in the passing game. Against the Bengals, Williams put together his third multi-rushing touchdown game of the 2015 season and moved up to become the eighth active NFL running back with at least 60 career touchdowns (61). Tight end Heath Miller led all receivers with with 10 receptions, after missing week 13’s game with a rib injury, for the third game of his career with at least 10 catches.

Grade: A-

Defense creates necessary turnovers on way to win

The Steelers were able to outscore the Bengals with the help of turnovers from William Gay, Stephon Tuitt and Robert Golden on defense. Although Pittsburgh gave up some big plays down the field and were not as effective in the pass rush as they have been in previous games, the turnovers were key. All three defenders recorded interceptions – the first in the career for Tuitt and Golden – against both Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron. Gay snagged McCarron’s throw and returned it 23 yards for a score, earning his sixth career interception for a touchdown, tying the franchise mark (and all-time lead) set by Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson. Sunday marked the first game Pittsburgh has been able to put together a three-interception defensive performance since 2011 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers continue to give up big plays in the defensive backfield. After Dalton was forced from the game with a thumb injury, Pittsburgh allowed McCarron to find A.J. Green for a 66-yard touchdown catch when Antwon Blake and Mike Mitchell were caught out of position.

Grade: A-

Special teams boosted by Boswell’s accuracy

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Placekicker Chris Boswell was the leading scorer (individual performance) against the Bengals. Following all three Steelers touchdowns, Boswell hit three-of-three point after tries. Boswell was also perfect on four field goals, helping the Steelers secure the win. Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton handled punt and kickoff return duties, but were limited to the total number of yards they were able to gain.

Grade: A

Tomlin and company need to address penalties, clock management

As far as an overall game plan, head coach Mike Tomlin and his coordinators created something that gave the Steelers the ability to be effective on both offense and defense. Penalties – including a ridiculously excessive celebration by Gay after his pick-six that had coach Joey Porter joining him in a knee-crawl – hurt the Steelers. Utilizing the time out twice in the opening 12 minutes of the game in order to avoid delay of game penalties stalled drives. It may seem nit-picky, but errors in concentration and execution can cost teams games. The Steelers coaching staff did well to keep their players in check, for the most part, when they were being penalized by Bengals without officials making the calls.

Tomlin made history, earning his 90th career win against the Bengals. He joins Hall of Fame coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher as the third coach in franchise history to reach that achievement. The Steelers are the first NFL franchise to have three head coaches reach that milestone.

Grade: B

Overview

The Steelers needed this win over the Bengals in order to have any real shot at post-season play. With the win, Pittsburgh has put Cincinnati in a difficult position moving forward. With Dalton’s injury, the Bengals may have difficulty with their next three games. The Steelers did not get help from Kansas City or the New York Jets (who won) in how they are seeded for the playoffs and are still outside looking in. This game gave the Steelers an emotional boost and showed they are a legitimate threat in this league once again, despite early season woes. Pittsburgh will host the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field on Sunday, Dec. 20, in a late afternoon game.

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.