The complexion of the AFC playoff picture changed on one play on Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown stadium as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 33-20 to keep pace in the AFC wild card picture and keep their faint AFC North hopes alive. Andy Dalton injured this throwing thumb making a tackle on Stephon Tuitt after he threw an interception on a shovel pass. A.J. McCarron played the remainder of the game and the Steelers had a relatively easy victory where there was more competitiveness before the game than during the game.
After Dalton got hurt in the first quarter the spirit of the Bengals disappeared reminiscent of a similar moment between these two teams a decade earlier when Kimo von Oelhoffen fell into Carson Palmer’s knee during the 2005 AFC Wild Card Game and that the Steelers gone on and won and we all know the rest of that story. Will that spark another run to a Super Bowl victory? Time will tell. But the more immediate inquiry is how the injury will effect seeding in the AFC playoff picture. Cincinnati came into Sunday’s afternoon’s action as the top seed in the AFC playoffs and if Dalton misses any significant time that will put a dent on their chances to make a serious Super Bowl run to say the very least. As for today’s game the defense did what it was supposed to do which as take advantage of an inexperienced backup quarterback and forced him into mistakes. In the third quarter William Gay had a 23 yard pick-six to put the Steelers (8-5) ahead 23-7. In the fourth quarter Robert Golden intercepted a pass by McCarron which was returned to the Cincinnati 16 setting up a one yard run by DeAngelo Williams to make the score 33-13 and the Bengals (10-3) scored a garbage touchdown to make the game look more respectable.
The Steelers dominated time of possession 35:47-24:13 and won the turnover battle 3-1 and that was the difference in the game. The Steelers actually got outgained by the Bengals 385-354, but they played a solid game Sunday by keeping the clock moving and converting 8 out of 14 third downs. They may not had had the gaudy number that they had in the last few weeks but they proved that they can grind out and get the tough yards and play situational football on offense.
As for next week when the Denver Broncos come to Heinz Field. They probably will face the best defense that they played all season thus far and they have a young emerging quarterback in Brock Osweiler. There is no need to stress the importance of this game for the Steelers due to them still being on the outside looking in of the playoff picture because of wins by the Kansas City chiefs and the New York Jets. The Steelers are in playoff mode and it seems like they are getting hot at the right time all they need is a little bit of help and sky is the limit!
PIT: vs. DEN Sun 12/20 4:25 CBS
CIN: @ SF Sun 12/20 4:25 CBS