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Pittsburgh’s Offense Struggles In Second Half In 37-30 Loss To Bengals At Acrisure Stadium

After beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted their division rivals at Acrisure Stadium for a Week 11 matchup. Unlike Week 1, the Steelers weren’t able to get a win as their offense struggled mightily in the second half after a strong first half.

Pittsburgh kicked off to Cincinnati to open the game, and they got decent starting field position when RB Trayveon Williams returned K Matthew Wright’s opening kickoff 29 yards to the Cincinnati 38. On 3rd and 8, QB Joe Burrow was incomplete down the seam to TE Hayden Hurst and the Bengals punted away. P Drue Chrisman, kicking in his first game this year, booted it to WR Steven Sims but he muffed the punt back into his own end zone but recovered with a small return and the Steelers began their first drive of the game on their five-yard line.

The Steelers went three-and-out after a 3rd and 8 pass to WR George Pickens was short of the sticks and wasn’t enough for a first down. P Pressley Harvin III boomed a punt 56 yards to the Cincinnati 32, and WR Trent Taylor returned it 11 yards to the Cincinnati 43, which is where the Bengals’ drive would start.

On first down, TE Hayden Hurst picked up 21 yards and the Bengals were in Pittsburgh territory. The Bengals wouldn’t pick up another first down though, and K Evan McPherson nailed a 45-yard field goal to put Cincinnati up 3-0 with 8:54 left in the first quarter.

The ensuing kickoff was a short one, and Sims returned it 22 yards to the Pittsburgh 35. On the second play of the drive, Pickett went deep and hit Pickens for a 22-yard gain down to the Cincinnati 38. On 3rd and 8 later in the drive, Pickett and RB Jaylen Warren connected for 9 yards and a first down. The drive ended after a drop by RB Najee Harris on 3rd and 7, which led to K Matthew Wright coming out. Wright, who missed two kicks last week, was good from 42 yards and the Steelers tied the Bengals 3-3 with 4:37 left in the first quarter.

On the Bengals next drive, DL Cameron Heyward blew up a Mixon run for a loss of two, but an 11-yard gain by Mixon on a reception out of the backfield made it 3rd and 1. On 3rd down, LB Robert Spillane was flagged for a facemask after bringing down RB Samaje Perine, so the Bengals got 15 yards and a new set of downs. Two plays later, Mixon gained 24 yards through the air and the Bengals were in Pittsburgh territory at their 30. After Mixon was stopped for a gain of one on the next play, Burrow threw to Perine out of the backfield on a slip screen and he took it 29 yards for a Bengals touchdown. McPherson’s extra point was good and the Bengals took a 10-3 lead with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.

Sims had another good return, returning the kickoff 37 yards to the Pittsburgh 44. On 3rd and 7 later in the drive, Pickett and TE Pat Freiermuth connected for 13 yards and a first down, A few plays later, Pickett ran for 14 yards down to the Cincinnati 19 for the first down. Two plays later, Harris ran for 19 yards and a touchdown. Wright’s extra point was good, and the Steelers tied the score at 10-10 with 12:58 to go in the first half. The 19-yard run was the Steelers’ longest touchdown of the season.

Cincinnati was facing a 3rd and 4 from their own 14, but Burrow was able to find WR Tee Higgins open for a 24-yard gain. Higgins picked up another first a few plays later, and the Bengals were driving down at the Pittsburgh 43. A first down run by Joe Mixon moved Cincinnati to the Pittsburgh 29, and then it was Higgins again making it happen two plays later with a 12-yard grab at the Pittsburgh 11 for a first down. The next play, Perine scored another receiving touchdown, this one from 11 yards out after he shook a Spillane tackle. Cincinnati took a 17-10 lead with 6:38 left in the first half after McPherson’s extra point.

On 3rd and 6 on Pittsburgh’s next drive, a holding penalty against Bengals CB Tre Flowers gave the Steelers a new set of downs. On 2nd and 4 two plays later, Harris got three yards and on 3rd and 1, WR Diontae Johnson took a jet just beyond on the first down market. A holding penalty against LT Dan Moore Jr. on the next play moved Pittsburgh into a 1st and 20 situation.

Back-to-back completions to Johnson made it 3rd and 4, and on 3rd down former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton was flagged for pass interference, nd the Steelers had a first down at the Cincinnati 25. Pickett was flagged for a false start on 3rd and 4 a few plays later, but on 3rd and 9 he hit a wide-open Pickens for a 24-yard touchdown, which then became the Steelers’ longest touchdown of the season, surpassing the Harris run from earlier in the game. Wright’s extra point was good, and the Steelers and the Bengals were tied 17-17 with 1:46 left in the first half.

The Burrow-Higgins connection was active again on 2nd and 10, as the wide receiver gained 17 yards on a reception. Two plays later, Higgins gained another 12 yards and another first down. With 31 seconds left in the half and with the Bengals at the Pittsburgh 47, Burrow was picked off by CB Levi Wallace. After a false start by Johnson, Pickett went to Freiermuth for 12 yards, and then two plays later Freiermuth gained 27 yards. The half was winding down, and Pickett went to Harris for two yards but with three seconds left in the half, Wright nailed a 30-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh up 20-17 at the half.

Pittsburgh received the second-half kickoff, but they went three-and-out on their opening drive of the second half. Harvin’s punt went 48 yards and was returned four yards to the Cincinnati 30. On Cincinnati’s first play of the second half, it was again Higgins gaining chunk yardage, picking up 16 yards on first down on a pass from Burrow. Two plays later though, OLB Alex Highsmith picked up the Steelers’ first sack of the game and Cincinnati was facing 3rd and 16. Burrow was incomplete, and Chrisman came out to punt. Sims returned the 57-yard punt 6 yards to the Pittsburgh nine-yard line.

Pittsburgh went three-and-out again, with Harvin punting just 39 yards. Taylor was flagged for an invalid fair catch after he tried to call for it after the punt bounced. The Bengals would take over at their own 41-yard line. On 3rd and 5, Burrow was complete to Hurst for seven yards and a first down, and two plays later Burrow went deep to Higgins for 33 yards at the Pittsburgh 6. Two plays later, Burrow threw a touchdown pass to WR Trenton Irwin and the Bengals took a 24-20 lead after McPherson’s extra point with 7:02 left in the third quarter.

Pittsburgh’s drive started off poorly with Sims losing three yards on a jet. On 2nd and 13, Pickett threw it away and on 3rd down his pass to Gentry was short of the sticks, and the Steelers had their 3rd straight three-and-out.

Marcus Allen delivered a big hit on Taylor on the punt return, and the Bengals would open their drive at their 21. That’s when OLB T.J. Watt did his thing, picking off Burrow and giving the Steelers prime field position at the Cincinnati 21. After a five-yard run by Harris on 2nd down, Pickett was incomplete to Johnson on 3rd down, so despite the good field position the Steelers couldn’t capitalize with a touchdown. Wright hit a 34-yard field goal, and the Steelers cut the Cincinnati lead to 24-23 with 4:28 left in the third quarter.

Another good return by Trayveon Williams gave the Bengals solid field position at their own 42. On 2nd down, Burrow found Higgins yet again, picking up 15 yards and getting into Steelers territory. On 3rd and 2 a few plays later, Perine got just enough for a first at the Pittsburgh 32. After a batted pass by DL Tyson Alualu on 2nd down, the Bengals were facing 3rd and 10, and Heyward got home for a sack of Burrow. McPherson came out and made a 54-yard field goal though, so the Bengals extended their lead to 27-23 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.

On 3rd and 4 from their own 28, the offense finally had a big play in the 2nd half, as Pickett and Pickens connected for a 33-yard gain. However, it was followed by a botched flea flicker and yet another 2nd and 10 run that went absolutely nowhere. Pickett got sacked by DL Sam Hubbard on 3rd down, and despite the big play, the Steelers had to punt. Harvin’spunt was fair caught by Taylor at the Cincinnati 10.

A false start on first down against the Bengals knocked them back to their own five-yard line, and the Bengals would quickly find themselves facing 3rd and 12. Burrow was incomplete, and Chrisman came out to punt, and his punt went just 40 yards so the Steelers would start their drive in plus territory at the Cincinnati 47.

On first down, Harris got downhill for a gain of 13 and a first down. A holding penalty against Freiermuth on 2nd down set Pittsburgh back 10 yards, and then the Steelers got penalized for ineligible receiver downfield. Back-to-back incompletions made it 3rd and 25, and Harris ran for seven yards on 3rd down. Harvin would come out to punt, and he pinned Cincinnati inside the 10 at their 9.

Cincinnati had back-to-back big plays, a 27-yard completion to WR Tyler Boyd and then a 32-yard completion to Irwin to get inside the Pittsburgh 35. On 2nd and 12 two plays later, Boyd picked up another first down, and an eight-yard run by Williams had Cincinnati threatening at the Pittsburgh 13. On 1st and Goal after a five-yard run by Perine, he picked up another two yards, and on 2nd and Goal Perine got his third receiving touchdown of the game and the Bengals took a 34-23 lead after the McPherson extra point with 4:30 to go, essentially killing the Steelers hopes.

On 3rd and 9 on Pittsburgh’s next drive, Pickett was incomplete to Sims who was out of bounds. They had to go for it on 4th and 9 from their own 28. On 4th down, Pickett was incomplete to Freiermuth and the Steelers chances of victory were officially dead.

The Steelers didn’t allow the Bengals to pick up a first down, but McPherson knocked through a 44-yard field goal and Cincinnati went up 37-23 with 3:18 left to play. After Sims returned the ensuing kickoff to the Pittsburgh 28, Pickett got sacked on first down but an 11-yard completion 3rd and 7 to Harris was enough for a first. Two plays later, Pickett threw a nice pass down the sideline to Pickens but it went right through his hands, but on 3rd and 1 Pittsburgh got a first down on a nine-yard completion to Freiermuth, and then Pickett evaded pressure and threw downfield to WR Gunner Olszewski, who got tackled at the Cincinnati 9 after a 31-yard gain. Olszewski caught a ball on the next play too, an eight-yard gain down to the one-yard line. Harris ran for a one-yard touchdown on the next play, and Wright’s extra point was good. Pittsburgh trailed Cincinnati 37-30 with 0:45 seconds left and would try an onside kick.

Wright’s onside kick try was recovered by the Bengals, and the game was over, but not before Pickens would get ejected for fighting after the onside kick. The Steelers fell to 3-7 with the loss, while Cincinnati improved to 6-4. Pittsburgh will travel to Indianapolis after Thanksgiving for a Monday Night tilt with the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium next week.

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