PITTSBURGH. Joe Burrow straightened his hair, then exhaled before starting the post-match press conference. With the loud sound of holiday music in the Bengals locker room echoing behind him, the Bengals quarterback shared the significance of Sunday’s 37-30 victory.
After starting off 0-2, the defending AFC champions are now 6-4 after beating the team from Pittsburgh that upset them 10 weeks earlier in the season opener. That game now seems like a distant memory for Barrow and the Bengals, who latched on to the seventh and final seed in the AFC playoffs after winning Sunday.
“It was amazing. One of my favorite wins since I’ve been here,” said Barrow, who improved his career record in a 3-2 win against the Steelers. “A lot of trouble. AFC North game. Bad weather. Cold, windy. We fought, we found a way to win.”
A four-point favorite, the Bengals trailed at halftime after Levi Wallace selected Burrow at the end of the half and Pittsburgh scored a field goal. The Bengals trailed at halftime despite two first-half touchdown passes from Burrow, who at one point in the first half threw 11 consecutive passes.
Cincinnati showed their mettle in the second half. Despite playing without the Ja’Marr Chase and losing to running back Joe Mixon during the game, the Bengals took the lead for good when Burrow hit Trenton Irvine in a 1-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter. The drive’s big game was a 33-yard rushing Burrow completion to Tee Higgins, who set a season high with 148 yards in nine receptions.
After both teams traded field goals, the Bengals essentially ended the game with an eight-play 93-yard throw that ended with Burrow’s third touchdown of the game to Samaj Perina, who had an extended role when Mixon was out of action by for a head injury.
“Every role you ask him to play, he will do,” Bengals coach Zach Taylor said of Perine after the game. “Whether it’s a role in the second half when Joe is away, playing his part in third place, or whatever other packages he’s been invested in. He is just as reliable as they are. Very reliable. provided because we understand how valuable he is to our team.”
The big plays on the drive were 27 and 15 yard completions from Borrow to Tyler Boyd, a Pittsburgh native who hadn’t caught a pass before that drive. Burrow also hit Irvine for 32 yards, which moved Cincinnati from their own 34 to Pittsburgh’s 34-yard line.
“We didn’t see the simplest looks today,” Taylor said of the Steelers’ defense. “They did a good job packing their things… They tried to put a lot of pressure on us, especially in second place. Joe, I think, handled it really well and found the guy who had the best match.”
In total, Burrow threw the ball for 355 yards with four touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, including T.J. Watt. incredible snag this allowed the Steelers to take the lead late in the third quarter. But instead of taking the lead, the Bengals’ defense stepped up and forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal.
“I’ve never seen defense like this before,” Barrow said of Watt, who returned to the field last Sunday after missing seven games with injuries. “He did two of them against me this year. I wish I could say that I can do something about it, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Burrow did have a lot to say to his Sunday colleague Kenny Pickett. Barrow was in Pickett’s place two years ago as a rookie quarterback who was struggling with being a rookie starter. In his sixth career start, Pickett threw for 265 yards (his second most of the season) with a touchdown and no interceptions.
“I think he did great today,” Burrow said of Pickett, who led the Steelers to a late goal that briefly revived Pittsburgh. “He can develop the momentum he showed today. There are a few young guys around him that he can create some chemistry with. I think he did a great job today. I told him after the game to keep developing it. one.”
Eli Apple, a veteran quarterback for the Bengals, also praised Pickett after the game. Specifically, Apple was asked to compare Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers offense in recent years to Pickett’s Steelers offense he and his teammates faced on Sunday.
“He is younger. His legs are younger. He can play longer,” Apple told CBS Sports. “Did some big shots under some pressure. I thought he was fearless.”
Apple had more to say about his own quarterback, who tied Kurt Warner on Sunday night to become the third-fastest quarterback to reach 10,000 career passing yards.
“Any time you have someone like Joe who is really calm and cool under pressure, it certainly makes it easier for everyone,” he said. “He just left the game. Nothing stopped him. He kicked the ball.
How did the Bengals achieve such great success against a Steelers defense that saw Watt and Minka Fitzpatrick take the field together for the first time since week one despite the absence of Chase or Mixon? Pittsburgh’s scheme, tight end Hayden Hurst, played into the hands of the visitor.
“They had a lot of double stuff,” Hurst said. “They tried to cover up a lot of things. They also added a little human there. A person is what we do best as a team. We took advantage of this.”
Two years ago, it was hard to imagine the post-match scene on Sunday. Then the Steelers won their 10th straight game over the Bengals, who were on track for their sixth consecutive losing season. Now, of course, things are different. At 3-7, the Steelers are on the cusp of their first losing season in nearly 20 years. Conversely, the Bengals are looking to turn Sunday’s victory into their second consecutive playoff trip.
“We were able to make it last year,” Higgins told CBS Sports after the game. “We know what it’s like. But it’s a new year. To get that away win in the second half of the season is nice and hopefully we can do it again next week.”