You didn’t have to wait until players started answering questions after Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals to see the Steelers venting some frustrations from a 41-10 blowout victory for Cincinnati. Frustration was visible on the field throughout the second half, and the contest left little positive for the team to focus on following the loss.
It was a stunning outcome, not because the Bengals won, but because of how they won. Their 31-point margin of victory is the biggest since Sept. 17, 1989, when Cincinnati won by the exact same 41-10 score, and it left the Steelers focusing on the road forward to shake off a pair of high-scoring losses.
“We need to play freaking better. There’s a whole lot that needs to be cleaned, and I won’t discuss it right here, but I gotta be better, I got to demand more, and I’ll get back to it,” Steeler defensive leader Cameron Heyward said during a postgame press conference shared by the team.
In a 31-point loss, it was evident that every member of the Steelers needed to be better, with Cincinnati forcing three turnovers, rushing for 198 yards, and scoring 21 points in the second quarter to lead 31-3 at halftime, making the second half more formality than competition.
Adding to the surprise of such a lopsided game was that, all week, the importance of this contest had been stressed by head coach Mike Tomlin. Cincinnati came in 6-4, and Pittsburgh 5-4-1. With Baltimore 7-3 and Cleveland 6-5, all four teams remained in contention for the AFC North title, making the remaining in-division games all-important for each of those teams. Adding to the importance was the AFC Wild Card picture, which had the Bengals holding one of those three postseason bids, and the Steelers the first team outside the postseason.
Cincinnati remains in one of the three available Wild Card spots following the game. Pittsburgh is now facing a tougher path to securing one of them, made more difficult thanks to facing the NFL’s toughest remaining schedule the rest of the way.
“We did not play good. Hats off to them, Bengals did their job. They went 2-0 vs. us in the regular season. Can’t say anymore,” Heyward said. “They executed a lot better. They won the turnover battle. They won the rushing battle. When you stack all those things up together, that’s how you get a win like that.”
It is Cincinnati’s first in-season sweep of Pittsburgh since 2009. Coming off this loss and a difficult one to the L.A. Chargers the week prior, Pittsburgh is in need of a major spark to continue the fight for a playoff spot.