It was not the injury the Pittsburgh Steelers knew but rather the injury they did not know that would play a pivotal factor into tonight’s 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. While Antonio Brown’s toe injury was the major storyline coming into tonight’s matchup, it was perhaps Ryan Shazier’s back injury that had the biggest influence on tonight’s matchup.
Just minutes into the game, Shazier laid motionless on the field after an attempted tackle. The situation got much worse when Shazier seemed unable to move his legs and was eventually stretchered off the field. The loss of one of the defensive leaders had a profound impact mentally and physically on the Steelers’ defense, as they struggled to regroup without Shazier rooming the middle.
The Steelers’ defense was unable to stop the Bengals defense throughout the first half without Shazier. The Steelers allowed 80 yards rushing and Andy Dalton to throw two touchdown passes in the first half as the Bengals jumped out to a 17-3 lead at halftime.
The Steelers’ poor display in the first half led to some changes in the second half as Cameron Sutton replaced Coty Sensabaugh at cornerback. Sensabaugh was responsible for Bengals receiver A.J. Green though he struggled mightily as Green recorded 77 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half. Green was shut out throughout the second half as the wide receiver did not record a single reception after halftime.
Le’Veon Bell also helped chip into the Bengals’ lead as the running back took a pass 35-yards into the end zone to cut the lead to 17-10. Bell took advantage of a Bengal’s miscue as multiple defenders looked more eager to play two hand touch rather than tackle the Steelers’ ball carrier. Bell finished the day with 76 rushing yards and 106 receiving yards.
Like in weeks prior, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown led the surge on a late fourth quarter comeback. Roethlisberger drove down the field and connected with Brown on a 6-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 20 with less than four minutes remaining. The biggest statement was also made on this drive as JuJu Smith-Schuster blindsided Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict, eliminating the linebacker from the game. While the play was penalized, the Steelers were able to overcome the penalty and score regardless.
And just as they had tied the game minutes earlier, Roethlisberger and the two-minute offense were able to push the ball into Bengals’ territory to set up Chris Boswell. Boswell, who has never missed a kick on the road against Cincinnati , pushed the kick through the uprights to give the Steelers another walk off victory.
The resilience of the Steelers shined through yet again as the team overcame not only a crucial Shazier injury but also an early deficit.
The Steelers will return home and prepare for another prime-time divisional matchup against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field next Sunday. The Steelers will look to continue their win streak as continue their chase for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.