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This afternoon’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals had huge playoff implications for both teams.  For Pittsburgh, it was nearly a must win game, as they are trying to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets in the AFC Wild Card race.  For Cincy, they were looking to lock up and clinch the AFC North division with a win.  With so much on the line, tension and emotions were running high, as was evident by the “extracurricular activities” throughout the afternoon.

When all was said and done, though, the Steelers out-muscled their AFC North rivals, beating them handily by a 33-20 score.

Andy Dalton left the game in the first quarter after having only thrown 5 passes with a serious thumb injury.  A.J. McCarron took his place for the rest of the game, passing for 280 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense put an enormous amount of pressure on the Cincy defense.  Heath Miller led all receivers with 10 catches, while Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant had seven receptions each, and Markus Wheaton added four.  Deangelo Williams had 76 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.

The Steelers took the lead in the first quarter, marching down the field on an 11 play, 80 yard drive to open the game, capped off with a one yard score by Williams.

Cincinnati looked as though they would respond with a score on their first drive, but Dalton was intercepted inside the red zone, which was also the play that knocked him out of the game.

After Chris Boswell connected on field goals of 42 and 47 yards to bump the lead up to 13-0, McCarron hit A.J. Green for a 66 yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 13-7.  Boswell added another field goal, this time from 45 yards, and the Steelers led 16-7 at halftime.

McCarron’s first pass of the second half was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by William Gay, and the Steelers were in complete control at that point, 23-7.

After a trio of field goals, one by Pittsburgh and two by Cincinnati, McCarron was intercepted for the second time in the game.  A few plays later, Williams ran in for the second time, another one-yarder, to push the lead to 33-13.  Cincinnati added a score late, but by then, the game was all but over.

This was a huge victory for this Steelers team.  They let the game get away the first time these two played earlier in the season at Heinz Field, and they weren’t about to let that happen this time around.  With the victory, the Steelers keep pace with the Chiefs and Jets, who also won today.  Meanwhile, the Bengals fell from the top seed in the AFC to temporarily the #3 seed.

In a season that serves up one huge game after another, the Steelers will return home to Heinz Field for a big AFC showdown against the Denver Broncos.

Overall Record: 8-5

Next Game: Sunday, December 20 vs. Denver Broncos 4:25pm CBS