Skip to main content

Quick Hits: Hilton Oversees Bengals' 'Big Changing Of The Guard,' Mixon's Running and Burrow's Passing Mark Some Of Cincy's Best Days Ever Vs. Steelers 

Joe Burrow leaves Minkah Fitzpatrick grasping.
Joe Burrow leaves Minkah Fitzpatrick grasping.

Leave it to the former Steeler to sum up the Bengals' AFC North clinic in Sunday's eye-catching 41-10 victory over the Steelers that gave them their first season sweep of Pittsburgh in a dozen years and a stunning 92-37 edge in the last three games.

"Beating these guys for me twice and some of these other guys three times, it's a big changing of the guard in our opinion," said Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton after his ultimate revenge pick-six in the last 30 seconds of the first half. "It gives us a lot of confidence and guys are excited to see how the season plays out."

While the Bengals offense dismantled the Steelers defense right out of the division playbook with a season-high 198 yards rushing (their most against Pittsburgh in 21 years), the defense quietly did the same by holding Pittsburgh to 51 on the ground.

It's the sixth time this season the Bengals have held a foe to less than 98 yards rushing and the defense again showed its sudden change prowess following the Bengals' only turnover of the day.

On the snap after quarterback Joe Burrow's deep interception gave the Steelers the ball on the Pittsburgh 21 in the last minute of the first half, Hilton got them good. With right end Trey Hendrickson backing rookie left tackle Dan Moore Jr., into Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Hilton took the wobbler outside the right numbers smack in front of wide receiver James Washington. There was nobody in front of him for 24 yards to make it 31-3 at the half.

Hilton laid the ball on the end-zone turf and forgot all about it when his teammates mobbed the first pick-six by a Bengals cornerback since Darqueze Dennard in 2017 and by any Bengal since safeties Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams in 2018.

But since head coach Zac Taylor gave him a game ball, Hilton went home with one.

"You know those guys, what they like to do in certain situations," Hilton admitted. "You know who they like to get the ball to. We had a little insight that put me in position to make a play and I had to make it."

RUNNING JOE: Don't look now, but Burrow is 2-1 against Pittsburgh and the last Bengals quarterback who could say that was Boomer Esiason in 1986, who actually started 3-0 against the Steelers.

And Burrow dialed up the second most accurate Bengals game ever against the Steelers when he hit 20 of 24. Ken Anderson's iconic 20 of 22 in 1974 against the Steelers is the club record at 90.9 percent. But Burrow was almost just as good at 83 percent, tied for the fifth most accurate game in Bengals history with Carson Palmer in the Benson Bowl in 2009 and Andy Dalton in a 2017 win over Hue Jackson's Browns.

But it was Burrow's eight-yard scramble for a touchdown to open the scoring and end the first drive that may have been the play of the day. And not because he deked a Pro Bowl safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick at the two-yard line. And not because it was his first rushing touchdown post-ACL surgery.

But because it ended a Here-We-Are Steelers march of eight runs and two passes that put them up 7-0. Burrow felt it was important enough to score to fake to the sidelines, cut inside, take a shot and stretch to the goal line.

"Yeah, I'm sure it did. I'm sure he (was surprised)," said Burrow of Fitzpatrick. "Most quarterbacks run out of bounds right there. I saw a little something that I thought I could take advantage of.

"I think when you have a chance to score a touchdown you've got to take it. It's hard to score two touchdowns in a row, and nothing is easy, nothing is given, so you've got to take your chances when they're there."

But, make no mistake. He was absolutely beaming about how his knee responded. After he went play action and rolled right, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith was waiting for him and he spun out trouble, headed up field and then saw Fitzpatrick.

"We had a play call that I was confident in," Burrow said. "Highsmith got some pressure on me and I was able to get outside and have a little boogie right there. My knee's feeling good. My knee was feeling great all day, I was excited."

JOLTIN' JOE IN THE BOOKS: Running back Joe Mixon's 165 yards on Sunday is a career-high, the most since Jeremy Hill's 168 yards against Cleveland five years ago, and the most ever against Pittsburgh when he bested James Brooks' 133 in 1985.

In the two games since the bye, the running game is purring with Mixon averaging five yards per carry. Combining the second half of last week's win in Vegas and Sunday's first half, Mixon had 206 yards on 39 carries.

His 288 yards on 58 carries in the last two games is the best back-to-back effort of his career on both counts and he can sense his offensive line getting more and more confident.

"I definitely I feel a lot more confident, and I seem them being a lot more confident," Mixon said. "I just see the camaraderie they have with each other and the chemistry. (Those) guys are like no other. They come to me all the time, (asking) what I am looking for, what do I see on this run, what do I have to do to be put in the best position to get certain yards. I'm just happy for them. They make my job a lot easier and by me being who I am, I've just got to keep on going and making them plays that everybody expects me to do."

INVESTMENT GROWS: Hendrickson, the big catch in Bengals' free agency last March, continues to pay dividends. Not only did he cause Hilton's pick-six, he broke a club record when he got a sack in his seventh straight, going past the record Eddie Edwards and Reggie Williams set in the early '80s. And did it with a flourish on a sack-strip of Big Ben that was recovered by left end Sam Hubbard, a replay of last week's sack-strip of the Raiders' Derek Carr.

Hendrickson gave the credit to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, defensive line coach Marion Hobby and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner, Hobby's helper on the edge.

"That's my job. We had great coverage in the back end and a lot of great coaching in Coach Hobby and Coach Lou, Coach Duffner," Hendrickson said. "They're putting me in the right places to have success."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Right tackle Riley Reiff missed a bunch of time with an ankle issue and was replaced by Isaiah Prince. It sounded like he'll be good for the Chargers because Taylor said he could have returned if needed.

Tight end Thad Moss was set to make his NFL debut after being promoted from the practice squad and Mitchell Wilcox being deactivated. But it's believed Moss didn't play because he pulled a hamstring in warmups.