The Cincinnati Bengals went to Pittsburgh for a three-game sled against division opponents this season, and they walked away with a much-needed win over the Steelers.
As always, it was a hard-fought, physical game, but Cincinnati made just enough games to earn their sixth win and earn a wild card berth for the NFL playoffs.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of Sunday’s competition.
Samaje Perine: Perine had the most significant offensive impact he had all season on Sunday. Though he didn’t play much of a role locally, he made two screen passes to pay dirt in the first half, which accounted for 14 of the Bengals’ 17 points in the first 30 minutes of the game. In the second half, Joe Mixon was out with a concussion and Perine took the lead. Perine continued his first half with a huge touchdown to take the Bengals 11 points late in the fourth quarter. Perine finished with 11 carries for just 30 yards but four receptions for 52 yards and three touchdowns. Just a monster performance from an unsung hero of this season, and one to give the Bengals confidence when Mixon misses the time.
Tea Higgins: Higgins resumed the role of primary wide receiver with Ja’Marr Chase out, and again he delivered. After an incredible catch on the touchline late in the second quarter, there were early concerns that Higgins would suffer a hip injury himself, but he was back in the first drive of the second half. A constant presence, Higgins was able to expand the field to keep Pittsburgh’s defense honest. He connected with Burrow on a 33-yard pass to set up a touchdown reception from Trenton Irwin to give the Bengals the lead in the third quarter. Higgins finished with nine receptions for 148 yards and carried the workload of a true number one option.
Evan McPherson: McPherson has had some issues this season, but they don’t seem to have shaken his confidence. After a drive stalled in the first quarter, McPherson punched through a 45-yard kick to give the Bengals an early lead. As the third quarter drew to a close, McPherson intervened again, this time hitting from 54 yards. It was a big moment in the game when the Bengals’ lead was extended to four when the momentum seemed to be shifting in Pittsburgh’s favor. At 3:18 in the fourth quarter, McPherson added the icing on the cake with a 44-yard field goal to extend the Bengal lead to 14. McPherson ended the day perfectly, looking back on Money Mac form.
Trenton Irwin: Irwin didn’t clutter up the stat sheet by any means, but his four receptions for 42 yards seemed to come in some big moments. Add in his touchdown reception and you have a solid day from a depth receiver as an offensive deal with his top target misses out. Cincinnati will need more gigs like this while Ja’Marr Chase is out. Chase has yet to return to training as he recovers from a serious hip injury.
Dre Chrisman: All eyes were on the punter fight in practice this week and Chrisman got his shot on Sunday, replacing longtime starter Kevin Huber. Chrisman got off to a great start, managing a less-than-ideal snap on Evan McPherson’s field goal in the first quarter. Punting wasn’t as important to fans leading up to the game, but holding on to post points and field goal attempts mattered given how the first matchup went. From a punting perspective, Chrisman couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. His first punt of the day went for 53 yards and a wobble from Pittsburgh’s returner roused her from within her own 5-yard line. Chrisman finished the game with two more solid punts and finished the day averaging 50 yards on three punts.
Cordell Volson: Week 1 wasn’t kind to Volson against Pittsburgh. In the second half, Volson played better but still had a tough day. After a poor first-quarter call against Heyward, Volson bounced back quickly and was a key blocker on one of Perine’s two touchdown screens. In the third quarter, Volson missed a stunt, resulting in a sack from Alex Highsmith, and on the next game he let Heyward come through again and pushed Burrow into a third-place throwaway. Unfortunately, that continued when Heyward stormed through again late in the third quarter to sack Burrow in third place. The Bengals had to settle for a 54-yard field goal. Volson has been trending since that Week 1 contest, but Pittsburgh’s defensive line again took advantage of the rookie.
Joe Mixon: Mixon was unable to find the Week 9 magic again on Sunday. Before Mixon left the game with a concussion in the third quarter, he was only able to rush for 20 yards on seven carries. While an injury is never a player’s fault, Mixon didn’t have a chance to build on his great game before bye week got underway. We will be monitoring the status of Mixon in the field over the coming week.
Eli Apple: Apple experienced boom or bust in its time in Cincinnati and unfortunately Sunday was the latter. In the second quarter, Pittsburgh receiver George Pickens hit Apple deep for a touchdown that left the entire defensive backfield looking confused about who to mark. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he was again beaten by Pickens on a go route to extend a Pittsburgh drive. Apple also had some solid plays that day but gave up too many big plays for a defense Chidobe Awuzie sorely misses.
So who do you think helped and hurt themselves the most in this case? Let us know in the comments section!