PITTSBURGH - After racking up the Bengals' longest play of the season with a 51-yarder that should also give him the AFC rushing title in Sunday's season-finale 16-13 loss to the Steelers, running back Joe Mixon guaranteed a play-off berth for next season.
"Next year we're not going to fall short, that's for sure," said Mixon after his 105 yards on 13 carries gave him the most yards since Cedric Benson in 2009 with 1,168. "If we don't have injuries, it's a different story. You can't use it as an excuse. But I stand by it and I'll keep standing by it ... We're definitely going to be an exciting team coming into next year," Mixon said. "I know one thing. Nobody is going to be close to us.
_Mixon's big run didn't turn into the winning touchdown with 6:17 left because the Bengals passing game just had nothing left on a day Mixon outgained quarterback Jeff Driskel and they stalled on the Steelers 7. They watched another starting wide receiver exit for good, this time Cody Core with a dislocated elbow. They also lost left tackle Cordy Glenn to an ankle injury in the first half and when Andre Smith, a long-time right tackle who has hardly ever played the left side went in, he got beat for a sack by end Cameron Heyward on third down at the 7 and they had to settle for a Randy Bullock field goal that tied it at 13-13.
"Those guys were penetrating and I was reading from the end man on," Mixon said of the only play the Bengals had longer than 49 yards all year. "I saw they were getting push on the back side and just tried to be patient."
_After two unnecessary roughness penalties within three minutes late in the first half, right guard Alex Redmond got benched in favor of Christian Westerman.
_Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't have wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) and the Bengals didn't make him look very comfortable on a 31of 45 passing night for 287 yards and a mere 84.5 passer rating. SAM backer Nick Vigil, brilliant with 17 tackles, thought the Bengals confused him at times with playing as many as seven defensive backs on third down and showing him personnel groupings he hadn't seen before. .
Safety Shawn Williams, who scored the Bengals' lone touchdown on the first TD of his life when he pick-sixed Roethlisberger from 58 yards away, thinks it's hard to confuse Big Ben and thought it came down to the Bengals weren't allowing much separation in man-to-man coverage.
By the way, Williams didn't think the TD counted when he ended up in the end zone. He thought the Bengals were in the neutral zone on a blitz, but they didn't call it.
"I thought he had a free play," Williams said. "That's why when I scored, I was like 'What? I think it's coming back and we might have been offsides,' but they didn't call it, so it goes down go on the stat sheet."
Williams made a leaping catch underneath a route for Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"I'm the low hole robber," Williams said of the zone. "Be aggressive. Go for it."
_Williams was hot when safety Brandon Wilson was lost for the game with a chest injury when Steelers rookie receiver James Washington caught him not looking on a pick play.
"Bull bleep. Bull bleep," Williams said of Washington. "He doesn't know the league yet ... "I get it. You're trying to pick him. But running a route and you lower your shoulder and you hit a man in the chest that doesn't see you?"
_After the game Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis gave no clue to his status after the game. "We'll handle it tomorrow," he said. But he is upset about the constant media speculation about his job even as he walked off Heinz Field.
"It's ridiculous. It's sad," Lewis said. "It's not about one person. It's how these guys play. It's not about one person. It's my job. That's all."
The Bengals don't have an inkling, they say, after Lewis spoke to them following the game. Yes, tight end C.J. Uzomah agreed. Lewis had the poker face.
"You guys have been here longer than me. You know Marvin's not going to say anything," Uzomah said.
"Marvin's a great coach. Love to have him back. Love to play for him," said Vigil after his mega game. "See what happens. Out of my control. We don't know."
Mixon wouldn't revise his play-off prediction.
"We'll go whoever the coach is," Mixon said. "Whoever it is. Whether it's Marvin or we get somebody new. I know the people we have. The people we've got."
_Sunday's huge defensive effort prevented the Bengals from setting the club record for allowing the most points in a season, which is 460.in 1999. They finished with 255. They grudgingly allowed 343 yards on Sunday to break the record for most yards allowed with 6,618.
_Mixon didn't start the game and didn't come in until the second series with Giovani Bernard getting the first two carries.
"I don't know," Mixon said. "They were probably looking at how they were setting up. I wasn't tripping, honestly."