Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard (25) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers' Cameron Heyward (97) for a touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to wait for their first AFC North crown since 2017.

Pittsburgh fell in stunning fashion 27-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday at Paul Brown Stadium and has now lost three games in a row. It is still in solid position at 11-3, but it is just one game ahead of the Cleveland Browns following yet another defeat.

While Cincinnati is largely playing out the string without franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, it snapped a five-game losing streak and improved to 3-10-1 on the campaign thanks to a strong performance from the defense and Giovani Bernard.

B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

Ryan Finley turned on the jets 💨

(via @NFL)
https://t.co/ulrFmVvet4

Notable Player Stats

  • Ryan Finley, QB, CIN: 7-of-13 for 89 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 10 rushes for 47 yards, 1 TD
  • Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN: 25 carries for 83 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch for 14 yards, 1 TD
  • Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT: 20-of-38 for 170 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
  • Benny Snell Jr., RB, PIT: 18 carries for 84 yards, 1 TD; 3 catches for 23 yards
  • Diontae Johnson, WR, PIT: 8 catches for 59 yards, 1 TD

Steelers Can’t Overcome Abysmal Start

It’s not often teams come into play with an 11-2 record and a deserved sense of urgency or even panic.

That was the case for the Steelers following losses to the Washington Football Team and Buffalo Bills amid three straight showings with fewer than 20 points. They didn’t do anything to answer those offensive questions in the early going, either, as Ben Roethlisberger threw for minus-five yards in a scoreless first quarter that saw his team lose two fumbles.

One of them came when Vonn Bell jarred the ball loose from JuJu Smith-Schuster on a hard hit near midfield, while the other came when Roethlisberger couldn’t handle a snap.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

“You’ve got to go out there between the lines, go out there and hit him.” – Vonn Bell when asked earlier about JuJu dancing on the logo

JuJu just got rocked by Bell on the field 😳

(via @Bengals)
https://t.co/W1s2T6iBsc

Sean Gentille @seangentille

Smith-Schuster gets rocked at midfield by the guy he pissed off by dancing at midfield. Unreal.

#RingerNFL @ringernfl

How it started vs. How it’s going https://t.co/5LdErjBIqG

NFL @NFL

The @Bengals recover the fumble in Steelers territory! #SeizeTheDEY

📺: #PITvsCIN on ESPN
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/pZlOokjorx https://t.co/ogefAxJYrS

Myles Simmons @MylesASimmons

I’m old enough to remember when the Steelers were 11-0.

The Ringer @ringer

Big Ben in the first half… WOOF! https://t.co/NmGObKBo6V

Things didn’t get much better following the first quarter, as Big Ben threw an ugly interception into the waiting arms of Mackensie Alexander. While the offensive line, receivers and rushing attack that was missing James Conner didn’t do him any favors, the 38-year-old looked like a shell of himself and nothing like a Super Bowl contender under center.

It flipped some in the second half when Roethlisberger threw a strike to Diontae Johnson for a touchdown and Benny Snell Jr. started to get rolling in the rushing attack.

B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

Big Ben picked 👀

(via @NFL)
https://t.co/1N2ynwYFR4

B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

Big Ben dimes Diontae Johnson for the TD 🎯

(via @NFL)
https://t.co/226VUZxpb8

Snell’s touchdown helped make it a seven-point game in the fourth quarter on a drive that saw William Jackson III drop a pick and commit a pass interference on a fourth down, either of which could have all but iced it.

Still, it was too little and too late for the visitors, who watched Roethlisberger throw four straight incompletions in the final minutes with a chance to tie it and perhaps force overtime.

Cincinnati’s Offense Does Just Enough in Win

Nobody is going to mistake Cincinnati’s offense for that of the Kansas City Chiefs with no Joe Mixon at running back and Ryan Finley lined up at quarterback.

Still, all the Bengals really had to do out of the gates was avoid turnovers and massive mistakes given Steelers’ play on the other end, and they did a solid job of taking advantage of the golden opportunities their defense created.

Cincinnati scored 17 points in the first half with all of them, including Bernard’s two touchdowns, coming on short fields following Pittsburgh’s three turnovers.

Joey Burrow @JoeyB

Confirmed: watching is not as fun as playing.

NFL @NFL

[email protected]_Bernard25 crosses the goal line!

@Bengals take a 10-0 lead. #SeizeTheDEY

📺: #PITvsCIN on ESPN
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/pZlOokjorx https://t.co/RQrU3DJZtS

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Bernard’s second TD tonight 🔥

Bengals are rolling

(via @NFL)
https://t.co/64JytfYcEQ

That was enough to provide a cushion into the fourth quarter even though the home team started the second half with three consecutive three-and-outs with Finley underthrowing multiple third-down passes and the offensive line struggling to create running lanes.

That’s when the Bengals switched things up.

They called a Finley pass just once during a nine-play, 80-yard drive and instead relied on read-options and Bernard between the tackles. Pittsburgh had no reason to expect Finley keeping the ball as a runner, but he did so to perfection on a key third-down conversion and again for a 23-yard touchdown run that put the Bengals ahead by two scores in the fourth quarter.

That was all the victors needed with the stagnant Steelers offense scuffling throughout, as Cincinnati at least played spoiler to its rival in an otherwise lost season.

What’s Next?

Both teams face AFC South foes in Week 16 when the Steelers host the Indianapolis Colts and the Bengals are at the Houston Texans.

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