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Bengals Host Steelers On Monday Night Football In Week 15

Wide receiver Tee Higgins points for a first down during a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins points for a first down during a game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020.

Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. Eastern.

Television: ESPN broadcast with Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst), Louis Riddick (analyst) and Lisa Salters (sideline analyst). In the Cincinnati market, the ESPN broadcast also will be simulcast on WLWT-TV (Channel 5).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

The game also will air nationally on Westwood One Radio. Broadcasters are Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Kurt Warner (analyst).

Setting the scene: The Bengals, looking to bounce back from a 30-7 loss to Dallas on Sunday, this week return home to face the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football at Paul Brown Stadium.

"When you lose, its frustrating" said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "It's hard to get rid of this feeling that we feel at the end of every week. But it's frustrating because we feel good about the position we put ourselves in heading into the game. But it's a myriad of reasons for why we lose. And it 100 percent falls on me."

Cincinnati's offense moved the ball on Dallas early in the game, but had nothing to show for it after losing fumbles on its first three possessions. It was the first time in more than seven years that an NFL team had lost fumbles on its first three possessions (most recently the New England Patriots on 11-24-13).

The first fumble was of particular note, because it was committed by HB Giovani Bernard, who had not fumbled on a rushing attempt since his rookie year in 2013. Bernard's streak of 829 carries without a fumble had been the longest active streak in the NFL by a margin of 317, and also was the third-longest fumble-free stretch in the NFL over the last 30 years.

On the next drive, the Bengals moved the ball with ease and reached the Cowboys' 20-yard line, before a fumble by HB Trayveon Williams was recovered by Dallas DE Aldon Smith and returned 78 yards for a TD. Cincinnati responded by again marching downfield and into the red zone, before usually sure-handed WR Alex Erickson fumbled on a reverse while appearing to convert a fourth down.

"The three turnovers in the first half obviously killed us, but I thought we really moved the ball well," said Bengals QB Brandon Allen. "My biggest thing is that we're just hurting ourselves. We have to clean up those mistakes we keep making that are really hurting our drives."

After the three turnovers, Cincinnati began to dig out of a 17-0 hole with a five-yard TD pass from Allen to WR A.J. Green. It was the 65th TD reception of Green's career, which moved him to within one of WR Chad Johnson (66) for Cincinnati's all-time lead.

The game also marked the first return trip to Cincinnati for Dallas QB Andy Dalton, who spent 2011-19 as the Bengals' starting QB. Dalton passed for 185 yards and two TDs, helping his Cowboys to a victory in front of crowd of more than 10,000 fans who showed their appreciation at every turn for his work both on and off the field in Cincinnati.

This week, the Bengals look to get on track against a Steelers team that features a defense ranked third in the NFL in yards per game (303.1) and first in points allowed (18.2). But Cincinnati faces uncertainty at QB heading into the contest, with Allen's status in question after he left the Dallas game with a leg injury. Taylor called Allen "day-to-day" during his Monday news conference, and confirmed that Allen will be Cincinnati's starting QB if healthy. But if he can't play, Cincinnati will turn to either second-year QB Ryan Finley, who finished the Cowboys game in Allen's place, or practice squad QB Kevin Hogan.

Pittsburgh enters Monday's matchup 11-2, after falling 26-15 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The series: The Steelers lead 67-35 overall and 32-19 in Cincinnati. The series includes two postseason games, both Steelers wins in Wild Card round contests at Paul Brown Stadium, after the 2005 and '15 seasons.

The Bengals have played more games against the Steelers (102) than any other foe. Cleveland is second in that category at 95, and Tennessee (formerly Houston Oilers) is third at 76.

The Bengals on MNF: This week's game is the 12th Bengals- Steelers meeting on Monday Night Football. With 11 previous MNF meetings, Pittsburgh by far is Cincinnati's most frequent MNF opponent. The Miami Dolphins are the only other team to have taken on the Bengals more than twice on MNF. The Dolphins and Bengals have had four meetings.

Cincinnati's all-time MNF record is 11-25.

Bengals-Steelers connections: Bengals WR Tyler Boyd is from Clairton, Pa. (Clairton High School), and also played at the University of Pittsburgh ... Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is from Findlay, Ohio, and played at Miami (Ohio) University ... Steelers LB Tegray Scales (practice squad) is from Cincinnati (Colerain High School) ... Bengals K Randy Bullock was with the Steelers in 2016 ... Bengals G/C B.J. Finney originally was a college free agent signee of the Steelers in 2015, and was with the team through the '19 season ...Bengals G/OT Fred Johnson originally was a college free agent signee of the Steelers in 2019 ... Steelers RB Benny Snell Jr., LB Avery Williamson, LB Bud Dupree (Reserve/Injured) and DE Calvin Taylor (practice squad) all played at the University of Kentucky. Snell is also from Columbus, Ohio (Westerville Central High School) ... Steelers DT Cameron Heyward played at Ohio State University ... Steelers WR Diontae Johnson, LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and LB Jayrone Elliott all played at the University of Toledo ... Steelers P Jordan Berry played at Eastern Kentucky University ... Steelers DL Chris Wormley (Reserve/Injured) is from Toledo, Ohio (Whitmer High School) ... Steelers senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin was Bengals defensive coordinator in 2018 ... Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was defensive backs coach at the University of Cincinnati from 1999-2000 ... Bengals defensive line coach Nick Eason played for the Steelers from 2007-10 ... Bengals linebackers coach Al Golden played TE at Penn State University from 1987-91, and coached there in 2000.

A.J. on Chad's heels: Bengals WR A.J. Green has 65 career TD catches, and stands one shy of tying former Bengals WR Chad Johnson (66) for the team's all-time lead. Green took sole possession of second place in Game 10 at Washington, when his five-yard TD from QB Joe Burrow broke his tie with former WR Carl Pickens (63). He then inched closer in Game 13 vs. Dallas with a five-yard TD from QB Brandon Allen.

Green is also not far behind in the category of total TDs. His 65 TDs rank third in team history, behind Chad Johnson (66) and RB Pete Johnson (70).

Bates enjoying his best season: Bengals S Jessie Bates this season has been among the top performers — offense or defense — on the team, drawing praise from many observers as one of the top safeties in the NFL.

Bates, a 2018 second-round pick of the Bengals, has started all 13 games this season and has 91 tackles (second on team), including two for losses, along with 14 PDs (tied for sixth in NFL), three INTs and a FF. He also has one tackle on special teams, and it was a big one — a touchdown-saving stop on a kick return in Game 13 vs. Dallas, as Cowboys RB Tony Pollard began to break into the clear.

Bates has started all 45 games of his career. With 91 tackles so far this year, he stands just nine away from topping 100 in each of his first three seasons.

Bengals on historic fourth-down pace: The Bengals' offense this season has successfully converted 18 of its 25 fourth-down attempts, good for a 72.0 percentage that ranks fourth in the NFL. The Elias Sports Bureau, whose records on fourth-down conversions go back to 1977, reports that Cincinnati's 18 fourth-down conversions this year already are tied for the fourth-most ever in the NFL over that time frame.

The Bengals need just two more fourth-down conversions over the last three games to tie the NFL record of 20, set in 1996 by the Chicago Bears. Cincinnati's 18 fourth-down conversions already easily outpace the previous team record of 14, set in 1992 (the team's records go back to '82).

Boyd looking for his third thousand: Bengals WR Tyler Boyd this season looks to become just the fourth Cincinnati pass-catcher to record three consecutive 1000-yard seasons. He would join WRs Chad Johnson (six consecutive; 2002-07), A.J. Green (five; '11-15) and Carl Pickens (three; 1994-96).

Boyd has a team-high 840 yards (on 78 catches) through 13 games this season, meaning he needs just 160 more over the final three contests to reach 1000. Boyd topped the 1000-yard mark in both 2018 and '19, despite his running mate, Green, playing just nine of 32 possible games over that stretch. Last season, he finished with a career-high and team-best 1046 receiving yards (on 90 catches), which slightly bested his '18 total of 1028 yards (on 76 catches) Boyd stands as one of nine Bengals ever to reach 1000 receiving yards in a season, and one of six to hit the mark more than once. Johnson's seven 1000-yard seasons stand as the most in team history, followed by Green (six), Pickens (four), WR Cris Collinsworth (four) and WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (two). WRs Eddie Brown, Tim McGee and Darnay Scott each had one 1000-yard season.

Higgins eyeing Bengals rookie records: WR Tee Higgins has had an impressive first NFL season, and remains on a trajectory that by year's end could land him among the top rookie pass-catchers in team history.

Higgins' 58 catches through 13 games already rank as the third-most ever by a Bengals rookie. He has three more games to catch the two players in front of him — WRs Cris Collinsworth (67) and A.J. Green (65). Higgins also has 778 receiving yards this season, and is on pace to land within the top five rookie seasons by a Bengal in that category. Green has the team rookie record for receiving yards (1057), followed by Collinsworth (1009) and WRs Eddie Brown (942), Darnay Scott (866) and Isaac Curtis (843).

But Higgins (five TDs) has some work to do in order to approach the 47-year old rookie record of nine receiving TDs, set in 1973 by WR Isaac Curtis. Collinsworth and Brown (both had eight) are tied for second in that category, followed by Green (seven) and WR Chris Henry (six).

Higgins also has two 100-yard receiving games, two shy of Green (four) for most by a Bengals rookie. Curtis and Brown (three) are tied for second place.

Bengals draft picks stick in NFL: A familiar trend has emerged this season regarding which teams have the most keen eye for talent in the draft, and the Bengals again are toward the top of the list. As of Tuesday, Dec. 15, there were 46 players on NFL rosters who entered the league as draft picks of the Bengals. That total is ranks second in the NFL.

Cincinnati has been among the top five teams in this category every week since 2018, and has spent long stretches in the top spot. At times, the Bengals have even held a double-digit lead over the second-place team.

Of the 53 players on Cincinnati's active roster, 33 entered the NFL with the Bengals — 27 as draft picks, and six as college free agents. Of those 27 draft picks, three were first-round picks, six were second rounders, four were third-rounders, five were fourth-rounders, three were fifth rounders, four were sixth-rounders and two were seventh-rounders.