The Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly left Paul Brown Stadium with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals. The two teams didn’t disappoint NFL fans who were expecting a tough, physical game. At times, the game had gotten a bit too physical, and there were plenty of moments where the referees had to split up Bengals players from Steelers players.
Nonetheless, it was a hectic start to the NFL Playoffs. Earlier in the day, there wasn’t much excitement when the Kansas City Chiefs blew out the Houston Texans 30-0. In the evening, NFL fans got their dose of drama and intensity, especially in the fourth quarter of the Steelers vs. Bengals game. In the end, the Steeler pulled away with a victory over their AFC North rivals with a final score of 18-16. Next up, the Steelers will travel to Denver, Co. to face the Broncos on Jan. 17 in the AFC Divisional Round game.
Here are our grades for how the Steelers performed against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card game.
Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger had a steady day against the Bengals defense. He marched the Steelers down the field in the first half twice for the Steelers to score two field goals. In the third quarter, he continued to lead the team down the field, even scoring a touchdown on a pass to Martavis Bryant. Roethlisberger did go down after that drive on a sack by Vontaze Burfict. After Roethlisberger was carted to the locker room, Landry Jones stepped in. However, Steelers fans would have wished he didn’t, as he threw what could have been a very costly interception in the hands of Burfict. Jones got lucky, as Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball. With the Steelers now having the ball back, Roethlisberger was back in the game. Roethlisberger finished off the night with 18/31 completed passes for 229 yards and a single touchdown. Grade: B+
Running Backs – Fitzgerald Toussaint stepped in as the Steelers starting running back with DeAngelo Williams still out with an ankle injury. Toussaint had 17 carries for 58 yards, while the Steelers other running back, Jordan Todman, had 11 carries for 65 yards. Todman also had a big run in the second half for 25 yards. Both players didn’t have 100 yard games, but they got key first downs, made important blocks and helped the Steelers offense in any way they could. Grade: C
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – The receivers kept their momentum from their game against the Cleveland Browns going against the Bengals. The highlight for the receivers was Bryant’s third-quarter touchdown. Making an acrobatic move that had him holding the ball against his inner thigh, while keeping possession, to moving it to his hands for touchdown, Bryant scored the first touchdown of the entire game. A little less than a week after Roethlisberger called out Bryant to “toughen up” and make tough plays for the offense, Bryant finished off the night five catches for 29 yards. Antonio Brown, while he didn’t have a touchdown, led the offense with seven receptions for 117 yards. Grade: A
Offensive Line – The offensive line didn’t open up many big holes for Toussaint and Todman in the run game. However, their protection of Roethlisberger was steady the entire first half. In the second half, they allowed more sacks, even one from Burfict who helped in injuring Roethlisberger’s shoulder. In total, the offensive line let the Bengals defense sack their quarterback five times. Grade: B-
Defensive Line – The Steelers defensive line were successful in stopping Hill and Giovanni Bernard in the Bengals run game. The line held both running backs to 78 yards on 18 carries. Even though Hill got a touchdown, the line stepped up, with even Cameron Heyward forcing a fumble and sacking Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron. Heyward’s sack was the only sack from the defensive line. Grade: A-
Linebackers – Ryan Shazier forced two fumbles, had nine tackles and had nine assists, which led the defense. Shazier did have a big hit in the second half on Bernard which sent him out for the rest of the game. However, the hit was deemed legal as Bernard was a runner and not a defenseless receiver. As for the other linebackers, James Harrison had a sack on McCarron as well as Jarvis Jones, who also forced a fumble. Grade: A+
Secondary – The secondary, just like the receivers, also kept their momentum from the Browns game and carried it over to Paul Brown Stadium. There was only one instance where a pass interference call proved costly, in the fourth quarter, when Will Allen was called for it while covering A.J. Green. The secondary only let one passing touchdown into the end zone from McCarron to Green. Antwon Blake, who had one tackle, had an interception off a McCarron pass in the first half and Ross Cockrell made his presence known whenever he scooped up a fumble from Hill. Grade: A+
Special Teams – Chris Boswell was the man that sealed the Steelers fate at the end of the game. Before his game-winning 35-yard field goal, Boswell scored the only points of the first half on two field goals from 39 and 30-yards. In the third quarter Boswell also converted a 34-yard field goal. Punter Jordan Berry had seven punts where he put three of them inside the Bengals own 20-yard line. As for the returns, Markus Wheaton only had one kick return that went for 16 yards while Brown had two punt returns with an average of four yards. However, Boswell’s winning field goal was the highlight of the Steelers special teams. Grade: A+
Coaching – The Steelers coaching staff used a challenge and their timeouts wisely. In the second half, head coach Mike Tomlin challenged whether Shazier had a fumble or not. Tomlin won the challenge and was not charged with a timeout. Those three timeouts of the second half he wisely saved for the last drive of the game. If the Steelers didn’t have those timeouts, they wouldn’t have won the game. Grade: A+