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Steelers Keep Playoff Hopes Alive with Dominant Win Over Rival Bengals

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Dec 24, 2023

The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a commanding 34-11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday. Led by backup quarterback Mason Rudolph and rookie wide receiver George Pickens, the Steelers snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 7-8 on the season.

Rudolph Steps Up With Season’s Best Performance

With starter Kenny Pickett sidelined due to a concussion, Mason Rudolph made the most of his first start of the season (source). Rudolph completed 17 of 21 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, both to Pickens. He finished with a passer rating of 129.3, by far his best mark of the season.

Rudolph showed poise and leadership in leading the Steelers offense to 24 points in the first half. This is the most the Steelers have scored in the first half since Week 1. Rudolph spread the ball around to eight different receivers and made good decisions, throwing no interceptions.

With the Steelers clinging to faint playoff hopes at 6-8, Rudolph’s performance comes at an ideal time. The team will likely need to win out and get help to qualify for the postseason. But Rudolph’s play offers optimism that the offense can hold up its end of the bargain (source).

Passing Comp/Att Yards TD INT Rating
Mason Rudolph 17/21 229 2 0 129.3

Pickens Has Breakout Game With 2 Long Touchdowns

Rookie wide receiver George Pickens had easily his best game as a pro, torching the Bengals secondary for 6 catches, 152 yards and 2 touchdowns (source). His scores came on receptions of 31 and 52 yards, as Pickens got behind Cincinnati’s defense multiple times.

Pickens’ breakthrough performance comes after he was called out by Steelers coaches and teammates for poor blocking effort last week. Pickens acknowledged those criticisms after the game, saying “I kept receipts” (source).

Receiving Receptions Yards Long TD
George Pickens 6 152 52 2

The 52 yard touchdown was the Steelers’ longest offensive play of the 2023 season (source). Pickens scored 28.7 fantasy points, by far the most of any Steelers receiver this year.

Pickens repeatedly got the best of Bengals cornerback Eli Apple. His incredible sideline 38-yard catch in the second quarter set up one touchdown. Apple also drew a key pass interference penalty while trying to cover Pickens.

Slow Start, But Steelers Pour It On in Second Half

The game started slowly for both offenses amid dense fog at Acrisure Stadium. The teams traded punts on the first two possessions. A Joe Mixon touchdown gave Cincinnati a brief 7-3 lead in the second quarter.

But the Steelers dominated after that, scoring 24 unanswered points behind the Rudolph-to-Pickens connection. Jaylen Warren’s touchdown run with 9:32 left in the fourth quarter gave Pittsburgh a commanding 27 point advantage.

In the second half, the Steelers defense notched back to back sacks of Bengals backup Jake Browning to stall a drive. The Bengals offense managed just a field goal over the final 30 minutes of play.

Playoff Picture Still Grim for Defending AFC Champs

While the Steelers kept their slim playoff hopes alive, the outlook is much more dire for the defending AFC champion Bengals. Their record sank to 6-9 with the loss, putting them behind several other wild card hopefuls.

With Joe Burrow out until likely the playoffs, the Bengals turned to Practice Squad veteran Jake Browning at quarterback (source). It did not go well. Browning finished just 24 of 41 for 243 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Cincinnati now likely needs to win out and get lots of help to return to the postseason. Even then, they would likely need Burrow to return from his knee injury. Their remaining schedule features tough games against the Bills and Ravens.

What’s Next

The Steelers conclude their home schedule on January 1 against the Ravens. Baltimore dismantled Pittsburgh in Week 14, and will be fighting for playoff seeding. Pittsburgh then finishes the regular season at Cleveland.

The Bengals host the Patriots on Christmas Eve, followed by a huge Week 17 home clash with Buffalo. Joe Burrow could potentially return by then. They wrap up the regular season at Baltimore.

So while unlikely, the door is still open a crack for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs. But their only focus needs to be on beating the Ravens. The Bengals face a steep uphill climb to defend their AFC crown.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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