The Bengals would have claimed the AFC North title with a victory over the Steelers on Sunday, but things remain very much in doubt at the close of business at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Steelers won 33-20 to close the gap between the teams to two games with three to play. That’s still a good-sized lead, but the Bengals probably won’t feel too comfortable about their situation until they have some word on how long quarterback Andy Dalton is going to be out of the lineup.
Dalton left the game with a right thumb injury after throwing an interception in the first quarter and was ruled out after a brief period when he was being considered questionable by the team. Coach Marvin Lewis said after the game that Dalton will miss next week’s game in Santa Clara against the 49ers.
AJ McCarron had some good moments in relief, including a 66-yard touchdown to A.J. Green, but also threw an interception early in the third quarter that William Gay took back for a touchdown. Gay’s celebration of that score, the fifth of his career, was one of the more extensive and long-lasting in recent memory, drawing a flag that probably won’t bother Mike Tomlin given the result and his response to Antonio Brown’s similar penalty last week.
McCarron would throw a second, less celebrated pick later in the game after a Ben Roethlisberger provided a short burst of hope about a Bengals comeback. That spark was snuffed out for good by DeAngelo Williams’s second touchdown of the afternoon and the Bengals are left to wonder about how their offense, which also lost Tyler Eifert to a concussion, will respond should Dalton be out for an extended period of time.
Their defense did a good job keeping the Steelers out of the end zone for most of the day. Roethlisberger was 30-of-39 for 282 yards on a day when he was content to keep things simple and rarely uncork deep throws. That led to four field goals, but aggressiveness wasn’t a big need once they built their lead in the first half of the game. That lead led to a win that gives a great boost to the playoff chances in Pittsburgh and a lot more nerves in Cincinnati than there were just a few hours ago.