The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their Week 17 matchup with a simple, yet unfavorable, playoff scenario. Beat Cincinnati at Heinz Field, and hope the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens in Maryland — you’re in. Anything else happens, and the Steelers will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start next week.
With the focus on just taking care of the business they control, the Steelers started the game with the football, but were unable to do any damage on their first drive of the game. When Jeff Driskel took over the the Bengals’ first drive, it was Pittsburgh’s defense which stood tall and forced a three-and-out.
After a series of punts, the Steelers put together a drive which looked promising to start the second quarter, but on a second down play it looked as if Geno Atkins jumped offsides, but wasn’t called. What resulted was a Ben Roethlisberger pick-six, handing the Bengals an easy 7-0 lead.
Pittsburgh’s offense continued to remain on cruise control, and the team’s defense was not picking up the slack. What ensued after another Jordan Berry punt was a Driskel drive which resulted in a 49-yard Randy Bullock field goal to make the score 10-0 with just over 2 minutes left in the half.
Desperately needing an answer, Pittsburgh was able to move the ball deep into Cincinnati territory for the first time of the game, but with time remaining they had to settle for a Matt McCrane, who was recently signed, field goal. The 39-yard kick was good, making the score 10-3, in favor of Cincinnati, at halftime.
Cincinnati took the first possession of the second half, but a T.J. Watt strip sack on third down ended any thoughts of the Bengals extending their lead to start the third quarter. Both teams exchanged possessions before Ben Roethlisberger finally was able to take a shot downfield with time to throw. His 49 yard pass was completed to rookie James Washington and set up a JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown.
Really #GoodJuJu. pic.twitter.com/oTrqXOYmtz— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 30, 2018
The score, and point-after, tied the game 10-10 with 3:50 left in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh possessed the ball to start the fourth quarter, and although Roethlisberger moved the team into scoring range, they were forced to settle for another Matt McCrane field goal attempt. The 47-yard kick is good, giving Pittsburgh a 13-10 lead with 8:35 left in the fourth quarter.
With “Renegade” blaring at Heinz Field to get the defense fired up, Keith Butler’s unit responded by allowing Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon to rip off a 51 yard run on the first play from scrimmage for Cincinnati. However, when things looked bleak for Pittsburgh, the defense stood tall and forced another Bullock field goal to tie the game 13-13 with just over 6 minutes remaining in regulation.
Now seemingly awake, the Steelers’ offense continued to move the ball with relative ease against the NFL’s worst statistical defense. Roethlisberger methodically drove the Steelers down the field, but on a critical 3rd and 5, a swing pass to Ryan Switzer came up short of the yard to gain. Matt McCrane was called upon to give the Steelers the lead, and make his third field goal of the game, and he was able to drive the 35 yard kick through the uprights to make the score 16-13 with 1:56 left in the quarter.
Driskel, now having to put the ball into the air to make plays, was unable to do so, and with no timeouts turned the ball over on downs. All that was left was the victory formation and hoping for a Browns win over the Ravens.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers’ playoff hopes and dreams.