The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately needed a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 to keep their playoff hopes alive, and they sure delivered with a 34-11 win. That victory finalized a 2-0 sweep of the Bengals for the Steelers in the 2023 season.
After winning the opening coin toss, the Steelers elected to defer to the second half — a changeup from their approach in recent weeks, having often opted to receive the opening kickoff when given the option. It worked out in their favor, holding the Bengals to just 22 yards before punting, setting up the Steelers to take over at their own 8-yard line. As grim as it may have seemed, Pittsburgh didn’t skip a beat, with a six-yard run from Najee Harris followed immediately by an 86-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph to George Pickens.
The Bengals followed up that drive going 59 yards down the field before QB Jake Browning threw a dime to Patrick Peterson, notching his second interception of the season in his first career start at safety. The Steelers managed another touchdown drive off of the interception, driving 80 yards before capping things off with a seven-yard rushing touchdown from second-year wide receiver Calvin Austin. Steelers now lead 14-0.
Though the next two drives resulted in punts for both the Bengals and the Steelers, another gut-wrenching mistake from Browning set Pittsburgh back in a prime spot, as safety Eric Rowe came up with an interception and returned it to the Bengals’ 14-yard line. The Steelers closed out that opportunity with — who could have guessed — yet another touchdown. This time, the score came from running back Najee Harris, who barreled through for a three-yard touchdown. Steelers lead 21-0 with 7:06 in the second.
Unfortunately, the Steelers were unable to capitalize on the opportunity to receive the second-half kickoff, driving just 20 yards before stalling out on third-and-2, giving Pressley Harvin his second opportunity of the day. The Bengals were set up at their own 20-yard line before managing an 80-yard touchdown from QB Jake Browning to WR Tee Higgins — incredibly, just the second-longest play of the day. Browning managed the two-point conversion with a pass to running back Joe Mixon. That would be their only touchdown of the day.
The following drive, the Steelers struck back with yet another chunk play from Rudolph to Pickens, who once again took it to the house for a 66-yard score. Steelers up 31-8.
Things were relatively slow for the Steelers through the remainder of the second half, but to the delight of fans, the defense continued to hold despite their slog of injuries. Browning closed out the game with 335 passing yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions — the final interception of which came from OLB Alex Highsmith, who managed his second career game with both a sack and an interception. The Steelers and Bengals each managed another field goal before the end of the game, with a final score of 34-11. Pittsburgh wins, and their playoff chances remain alive... just barely.
The New York Times NFL Playoff Simulator estimates the Steelers with a 10% chance to make the playoffs following that Week 16 win. If the Steelers were to win out the rest of the season against the Seahawks and the Ravens, their playoff chances would be at 82%, according to the simulator.
Regardless of Pickett’s health and availability for Week 17, it would seem likely that the team look to Rudolph to once again get the start. He finished the game with 290 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Rudolph surpassed the second-highest passing-yard total of Pickett’s career (278 yards) in this outing, and perhaps would have had the opportunity to exceed his career-best (327) if it had been a closer game that called for a more pass-heavy game script in the second half.
Do you start Kenny Pickett in Week 17? Or do you keep rolling with Mason Rudolph? Join your fellow Steelers fans in the comments section to discuss that and all other things Week 16 below!