In the win over Carolina before the bye, running back Joe Mixon led the way five touchdowns and a season-high for rushing yards. On Sunday, the team’s third-down running back grabbed the spotlight.
Samaje Perine finished with three receiving touchdowns, including a 29-yard pass from Joe Burrow on second-and-9 late in the first quarter. His final touchdown proved clutch, as he caught a 6-yard pass to extend the Bengals’ lead to 34-23 with 4:30 left.
Although most of his damage came in the passing game, Perine also played an increase role in the running game, as Mixon missed the entire second half because of a concussion. Mixon had seven carries for 20 yards in the first half, and Perine finished with 11 carries for 30 yards and four catches for 52 yards.
Burrow finished with 355 yards passing and four touchdowns, but had two interceptions. He was sacked just twice, after taking seven in the opening loss to Pittsburgh. Tee Higgins led the receivers with 148 yards on nine catches.
2. Special teams improvement
The Bengals had some concerns on special teams going into the bye, and they finished Sunday’s game looking much better in that area.
Drue Chrisman impressed in his NFL debut, replacing Kevin Huber as the team’s punter for at least one game after being elevated from the practice squad Saturday. He boomed his first punt for 53 yards and had a 57-yarder later in the game, pinning the Steelers at their own 9-yard line. Two punts were inside the 20-yard line, and he averaged 50.0 yards on his three punts.
Kicker Evan McPherson made all three of his field goals after having misses in back-to-back games before the bye (plus a missed PAT in Week 8 at Cleveland). He opened the scoring with a 45-yard field goal, then made a 54-yarder to give the Bengals the lead for good late in the third quarter, up 27-23. His final field goal, for 44 yards, sealed the win with 3:18 left and a 14-point cushion.
Kick returner Chris Evans was unavailable because of a PCL injury, so Trayveon Williams served in that role and was solid, averaging 24.8 yards on five returns, including a long of 42 yards.
3. Second-half defense stepped up
Cincinnati’s comeback was possible in large part because the defense stepped up in the second half to limit the Steelers to just 103 yards of offense. The Bengals had given up 17 points in the second quarter, which was a high for the season, but they buckled down in the second half to close out a big win.
The Steelers went three-and-out on their first three possessions of the second half, and the Bengals limited them to a field goal the next drive, despite a short field after T.J. Watt intercepted Burrow to give Pittsburgh the ball at the Cincinnati 21-yard line. The Steelers managed just six yards on four plays before Matthew Wright made a 34-yard field goal.
Pittsburgh had just one first down on each of the next two drives and turned the ball over on downs with 3:35 left. The Steelers managed a late touchdown on a nine-play, 72-yard drive but those were the final points of the game.
Trey Hendrickson had two sacks and two tackles for loss, cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt led with 12 combined tackles and Germaine Pratt added two tackles for loss.