PITTSBURGH -- Joe Burrow gave Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett an NFL quarterbacking clinic Sunday when he sliced the Steelers for four touchdown passes and 355 yards in a 37-30 victory that gave the Bengals their sixth win in the last eight games.
The Bengals also got a monster game from wide receiver Tee Higgins (nine catches for a season-high 148 yards) and three touchdown catches from running back Samaje Perine, when he stepped in after Joe Mixon left the game with a concussion. Cincinnati also got a boost from a suffocating defense in the second half that held Pittsburgh to fewer than 70 yards after half time before a touchdown drive in garbage time as Trey Hendrickson racked up two sacks after he briefly left in the first half with a knee injury.
The Bengals moved to 6-4 to remain a game in back of the first-place Ravens with their first AFC North win of the season.
That last-minute score by the Steelers did cut the lead to 37-30 and it came down to who else grabbing the on-side kick with 44 seconds left?
Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Boyd waited for the perfect time to come back to his hometown and make his first two catches of the day for 42 yards as the game ticked under eight minutes with the Bengals leading by four. A 93-yard drive, spiced by Perine's third touchdown catch of the day on a six-yard swing pass with 4:30, left consumed just over five minutes and gave them the 34-23 lead. Steelers linebacker Myles Jack slipped in coverage and Perine made him pay.
Early in the third quarter, Bengals punter Drue Chrisman, in his first NFL game, delivered a 57-yarder that flipped the field when the Steelers were pinned on their 9. After Burrow found tight end Hayden Hurst for a huge seven-yarder in the middle of the field on third-and-five, he leaned back and sifted a 33-yard bomb to Higgins inside the Steelers 10 and when Burrow found wide receiver Trenton Irwin in the back of the end zone for his first NFL touchdown, the Bengals had a 24-20 lead with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals defense reversed their first-half fortunes with four three-and-outs to start the second half, and their most impressive on the last one when Pittsburgh picked off Burrow for the second time during the day on another incredible play by Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. A carbon copy of his Opening Day pick of Burrow, Watt, while he was getting blocked by right tackle La'el Collins, reached up and plucked it at the Bengals' 21.
(It was Burrow's eighth pick of the season, sixth by Pittsburgh.)
But the Bengals allowed only a field goal to keep the lead at 24-23.
Despite not having Mixon since early in the second quarter with a concussion (he had seven carries for 20 yards when he left), the Bengals stormed to a 27-23 lead early in the fourth quarter behind Higgins and Perine grinding for 82 scrimmage yards and those three TD catches that set a record for a Bengals running back in a game. Higgins' run-and-catch 15-yarder on a crossing pattern set up Evan McPherson's 54-yard bomb that gave them the 27-23 lead with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bengals had things going their way, leading 17-10, with 6:38 left in the half. Burrow was lighting it up again with two touchdown passes, both to Perine.
But the Bengals defense let the Steelers get off the hook on the next drive. On one successful third-down, cornerback Tre Flowers was called for holding tight end Pat Freiermuth and on another one, slot cornerback Mike Hilton was called for interfering with rookie wide receiver George Pickens.
The Steelers offense came in ranked 26th on third down and with no touchdowns longer than eight yards, averaging 13 points per game under Pickett and not scoring 20 points in regulation all season.
But that all changed in the first half when the Steelers forged five out of seven third-down conversions in the half, including Pickett's tying touchdown for 17-17 with 1:47 left in the half on a 24-yard pass to Pickens against the blitz on third-and-nine. It looked like there was confusion at the line of scrimmage among the defensive backs with Pickens in a bunch formation and he was pretty much uncovered.
Burrow, with a near-perfect 155 passer rating, had been very good and the Bengals were looking to score when they got the ball back. He had a second-and-10 from the Steelers 47 with 35 seconds left, but linebacker Robert Spilane worked a twist, deflected a pass and the ball was picked off by cornerback Levi Wallace at the Steelers 34 and that's all Picket needed.
He went four-for-four with two big throws to Freiermuth, one a 27-yarder featuring a missed tackle by rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and other Bengals DBs. That set up Matthew Wright's chip-shot field goal for the 20-17 halftime lead.
With Burrow getting his 10,000th passing yard in the first half (making him the third quickest ever to get there) the Bengals took a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter on Burrow's 29-yard touchdown pass on a second-and nine screen pass to Perine. Wide receivers Stanley Morgan and Trenton Irwin checked in a play after they went with six linemen and both got big blocks downfield, as did left guard Cordell Volson.
The Bengals took a 17-10 lead when Higgins went off for four catches for 55 yards on a drive Burrow shot-gunned seven out of seven and Higgins' first target with 11 minutes left in the second quarter was the biggest. On third-and-four Burrow saw Higgins working one-on-one across the middle with safety Terrell Edmunds and it went for 24 yards.
It was the last third down of the drive as Burrow (he didn't get sacked in the half after the Steelers got him seven times in the opener Collins and left tackle Jonah Williams stepped up) bounced in the pocket finding Higgins in zones and one-on-one, but it was his 11-yard swing pass to Perine on the right sideline that got the score as he made a defender miss.
The Steelers tied the game at 10 on the drive the Bengals momentarily lost Hendrickson from the right edge with a left knee injury. Pickett went after the left edge a few plays later on third-and-three and when end Sam Hubbard crashed on the zone read, Pickett pulled it and ran wide open for 14 yards. Then Pickett went after the left edge, where Cam Sample was playing for Hendrickson and the dormant Steelers running game woke up when running back Najee Harris pulled off the Steelers longest touchdown play of the season on a 19-yard run he completed hurdling over free safety Jessie Bates III.
Chrisman's first punt went 62 yards in the game's first moments and it nearly turned into a safety when wide receiver Steven Sims muffed it and had to track it down into his own end zone before running it back to his five. On the ensuing three-and-out (highlighted by linebacker Germaine Pratt stoning running back Najee Harris), the Bengals got the ball at their own 43 and immediately got the ball on the Steelers 36 when tight end Hayden Hurst burned linebacker Myles Jack on a 21-yard slant. They ended up settling for Evan McPherson's 45-yard field goal for the first score of the game.
The Bengals defense had the final word, holding Pickett to 25 of 42 passing for 265 yards.