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Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers Wild Card playoff win over Cincinnati Bengals

The Steelers took down the Bengals 18-16 in a chippy, hard-hitting AFC Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night. Pittsburgh is now set to to square off against the No.1 seed Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round next Sunday.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked by the Cincinnati Bengals 18-16 in a classic AFC North slug fest at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday night. The playoff win over the Bengals was the Steelers first since the 2010-11 season. Pittsburgh is now set to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round at 4:40 PM EST this coming Sunday.

The Bengals are now 0-7 in playoff games under head coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game in 25 years, and must wait until next season to make another run at it.

Let's take a closer look at what went right and what went wrong for the Steelers on Saturday, and what it means for the team moving forward.


The Good

Ben Roethlisberger went a long way toward cementing his legacy as the toughest quarterback in NFL history. Roethlisberger sustained a sprain to the AC joint in his throwing shoulder after being driven into the turf on a sack by linebacker Vontez Burfict in the third quarter. As the superstar QB writhed on the ground in pain, Steelers Nation held its collective breath and looked on in horror as he was carted to the locker room. In the fourth quarter, to the surprise of many, Roethlisberger returned to the sideline. Then he came back onto the field, and led the offense on a game-winning scoring drive with seconds remaining.

The Steelers offensive line punished the Bengals front seven, paving the way for reserve running backs Fitzgerald Touissant and Jordan Todman to rush for 123 yards on 28 carries. The majority of the contest was played in a torrential downpour, making it difficult for both quarterbacks to throw the ball down the field. The Steelers ability to establish an effective running game without DeAngelo Williams proved to be the one of the deciding factors in the game.

Roethlisberger challenged Martavis Bryant in the media during the week leading up to the game. The second-year wide receiver responded by making an acrobatic touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone late in the third quarter. It was the Steelers lone touchdown of the game, and helped extend their lead to 15-0. Bryant finished the game with five receptions for 29 yards and added another 44 yards on an end around that helped set up a Chris Boswell field goal.

Antonio Brown hauled in seven catches for 119 yards on 12 targets, and drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the game-winning drive. Brown took a vicious blow to the head from Burfict as he ran across the middle of the field with 22 seconds remaining in the game. The hit by Burfict gave Brown a concussion, and it cost the Bengals the game. The Steelers All-Pro wide receiver is now in the league-mandated concussion protocol, and his status remains unclear heading into the Divsional round game in Denver.

The Bad

Roethlisberger and Brown are the Steelers best offensive players, and both sustained significant injuries on Saturday night, leaving their status for Sunday's game against Denver up in the air. Roethlisberger underwent an MRI on Sunday, and it appears he suffered a sprain to the AC joint in his right shoulder. Brown is currently going through concussion protocol. The Steelers will need both players in order to beat the Broncos, who boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL.


The Good

Ryan Shazier cashed in his second monster performance of the season at the perfect time. The second-year linebacker registered 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defensed, a QB hit and two forced fumbles on the night. Shazier was all over the field, flashing his 4.3 speed, and delivering crushing hits to Cincinnati ball carriers. His biggest hit of the night occurred late in the third quarter. With the Bengals facing a third and nine from the Steelers 23 yard line, AJ McCarron checked down to Giovani Bernard in the right flat. Shazier came flying up to make the tackle and delivered a crushing hit, dislodging the ball and knocking the Cincinnati running back unconscious. His second forced fumbled saved the game. With 1:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, Shazier stripped Jeremy Hill at the Steelers 20 yard line, giving the Pittsburgh offense one final shot at a game-winning drive.

With points at a premium, a strip sack by Jarvis Jones and an interception by Antwon Blake led to two Boswell field goals. Jones, a first-round pick in 2013, and Blake, an undrafted free agent and Jacksonville Jaguars cast off, were the unsung heroes. Both players have been much-maligned by Steelers fans this season, but they made key contributions at pivotal moments in the game.

The Steelers front seven contained the Bengals formidable two-pronged rushing attack of Hill and Bernard, limiting them to a combined 78 yards on 18 carries. Pittsburgh's rush defense ranked No. 5 in the NFL during the regular season, allowing opponents an average of 91.2 yards per game. Rookie linebacker Bud Dupree was especially stout against the run, tallying three total tackles, including a big tackle for loss.

The Bad

After pitching a shutout through three quarters, the defense surrendered 16 fourth-quarter points. The Bengals first points came via a one-yard touchdown plunge by Hill, which was set up by a 42-yard pass interference penalty on veteran safety Will Allen. McCarron picked apart the Steelers secondary on Cincinnati's ensuing offensive possession, converting a third and nine on an 18-yard completion to Tyler Eifert. That set up a 36-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, making the score 15-10 with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, with 1:50 left in the game, McCarron connected with AJ Green on a 25-yard touchdown strike on third and seven to put the Bengals ahead 16-15.

Special Teams

The Good

Chris Boswell continues to be one of the best kickers in the NFL. He connected on all four of his field goal attempts, all of which were pivotal in securing the victory. The Steelers and their fans are especially thankful for Boswell after watching Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shank a 27-yard game-winning field goal attempt against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. Credit also has to be given to punter and place holder Jordan Berry, and punt return man Antonio Brown. Playing mistake-free football in a torrential downpour that lasted nearly the entire game was no easy feat.

The Big Picture

The Steelers win over the Bengals means they'll advance to play the Broncos in Denver in the Divisional round. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 4:40 PM EST. The winner of the Steelers-Broncos matchup will play the winner of the other AFC Divisional round game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots. Just two more games stand between the Steelers and a trip to Super Bowl 50.