Steelers kicker Chris Boswell drilled a 38-yard field goal as time expired, leading Pittsburgh (10-2) to a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) in a collision of Week 13 that shook the bones. This is what we learned in Monday night's action:
1. This game of resentment of the AFC North was played under a figurative hoax, as the Steelers were visibly shocked after seeing defensive leader Ryan Shazier placed on a board, transported off the field and sent by ambulance to a local hospital to evaluate a back injury in the second possession of the afternoon. In tears for his inner linebacker, Vince Williams was consoled by his teammates in the moments after the injury. While Pittsburgh struggled to adjust for the next two quarters, Cincinnati took advantage with a 17-3 advantage at halftime with a 253-126 advantage in net yards. It was perhaps the most competitive half of the Bengals in two years.
2. The Steelers found their orientation in the second half, however, reversing statistical dominance. When Ben Roethlisberger found his pace in the fourth quarter, All-Pros Le & Vegan Bell and Antonio Brown beat the mark of the century in receiving yards, imposing their will on an exhausted defense. The final frame was pure Pittsburgh supremacy, which resulted in a touchdown and a pair of field goals in 158 yards for the offense, while the defense limited Cincinnati to 13 yards with three punts in three possessions that altered the game. With a seven-game winning streak, the Steelers are now 12-3 in 15 games against the Bengals since the early morning of Andy Dalton-A.J. The green era in 2011.
3. Former Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth once told the Cincinnati Enquirer that this smashmouth showdown had an internal effect at the end of the season, causing both teams to lose key players for weeks afterwards. In addition to Shazier's injury, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict dropped three times, and was eventually ejected from the field in the fourth quarterback after taking a cruel crack block by JuJu Smith-Schuster. Prior to Burfict's departure, Cincinnati had lost rookie runner Joe Mixon to a concussion and cornerback Adam Jones for a groin injury. The physical fight featured ten penalties of 15 yards, including a series of hits on the helmet. The Bengals were marked 13 times for a franchise record of 173 yards penalty. Both sets will enter the crucial stretch of the weakest season for the brutal ball game.
4. It was a story of two halves for the Dalton-to-Green connection that produced a pair of touchdowns, which led to part-time bench Coty Sensabaugh, an understudy of injured cornerback Joe Haden. Overcoming some early failures in the field under wind and rain, Dalton showed impressive intermediate precision on the way to his best half of the season. Although Green finished with seven receptions for 77 yards and both scores, he lost a 61-yard touchdown penalty to Giovani Bernard's penalty and beat Sensabaugh twice more just to see Dalton's missed shots fall on the way. However, Green was excluded in the second half, as Dalton only managed one field goal instead of four useless possessions that ended in punt.
5. Green was not the only player to void a long touchdown in an ugly game marked by penalties and illegal punches. Martavis Bryant's 96-yard kickoff return kick was removed from the board due to J.J. Wilcox has an infraction. Antonio Brown scored Dre Kirkpatrick for a 50-yard touchdown just to settle for a 38-yard pbad interference penalty that cost the Steelers four points to enter at halftime. Brown would have added a 35-yard touchdown had he not lost control of the ball when his body made landfall at the start of the third quarter.
One play later, Bell scored on his own 35-yard run when Bengals defensive backs Jordan Evans, William Jackson and Josh Shaw oddly watched the runner run down the sideline without leaving him out of bounds. "I have never seen that," said ESPN color commentator Jon Gruden, reacting incredulously to the confusion bordering on defensive indifference.