PITTSBURGH _ Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow called his second straight win here and the first one this season in the AFC North one of his favorites. It put him over .500 in his career (18-17-1), gave him 22 touchdowns and on pace for a Bengals-record 37 and marked the fourth time in the last five games they've hit 30 points in a game they trailed 20-17 at halftime.
"A lot of adversity. AFC North game. Bad weather, cold, windy," said Burrow, who had said last week this would be one his coldest games and it was as the temp dipped below freezing. "We fought through. We found a way to win."
The cameras caught him saying, "We're the big dogs," on the field and while he didn't elaborate Burrow did allow the Bengals are a club to be reckoned with as December beckons.
"I think we're playing as good as anybody," Burrow said. "We're hitting our stride offensively. We still left some points out there. There's always room to improve, obviously. But the last couple of weeks, apart from that Monday night game, we've been pretty lights out."
Both coaches though the pivotal point of the game came with the Bengals leading, 27-23, with 9:33 left and starting a drive from their own seven. Don't look for a big third-down conversion. They never faced a third down in the eight-play drive.
"I thought it was significant. We pinned them back and they went plus 90 and scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive. I thought that was a significant sequence in the game," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, "particularly from a field positioning standpoint. When you're in that position, the field positioning is a component. When you got it, you got to maintain it. It has to produce points, and obviously when you got it on defense, you can't allow them to drive the field."
The big play of the game, then, was wide receiver Tyler Boyd's first touch of the game on the first play of that drive, a leaping 27-yard catch as Burrow found his back-shoulder. Then he caught a 15-yarder in the middle of the field to put them at the Steelers 21.
"I thought on that last drive, TB really stepped up big time," Taylor said. ""He had the back shoulder inside fade and then he had kind of the pull away on the four verticals."
SAMAJE SPECIAL: A game after running back Joe Mixon set a Bengals record with five touchdowns, his backup Samaje Perine got another one Sunday when he became the first Cincinnati running back to catch three touchdowns in a game.
"The three touchdowns from the running back, mind boggling," said Steelers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cam Heyward. "Receiving out of the backfield. We didn't get home enough."
But Perine, the soft-spoken, unassuming reserve who got the Bengals back in last year's AFC title game with a 41-yard-catch-and-run touchdown late in the half, did get home with his second, third and fourth touchdowns of the season after Mixon went to the locker room at halftime with a concussion, two more touchdowns than what he had combined for the Bengals in the 2020 and 2021 regular seasons.
"He steps up whenever his opportunity presents itself," said Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. "One of those locker room guys that everybody talks about. Great in the locker room. Great guy to talk to. Culture builder. He's fun to play with."
It's believed head coach Zac Taylor gave Perine one of many game balls.
"He always does that. You know, it's every role you ask him to play, he's going to do it," Taylor said. "Whether it's the second half, feature back when Joe's out, whether it's playing his role on third down, or some of the other packages we put him in, he's just as reliable as they come."
IRWIN GETS ONE, TOO: If you told Burrow when he woke up Sunday that three of his four touchdowns would go to Perine and the other one to practice squad wide receiver Trenton Irwin, you might have got an interesting reaction. But Irwin knew he was going to get that first touchdown at some point. Especially after he and Burrow agonized together two weeks ago watching the replay take away the first touchdown against Carolina at Paycor Stadium.
This one, a one-yarder along the back of the end zone that he ripped away, put them ahead for good with 7:02 left in the third quarter. Irwin, playing because Ja'Marr Chase isn't, said it was a lot like the one two weeks ago in it was the scramble drill.
"I had to. I had to score. I can't be in the paint and have it get taken away like that and not get one," Irwin said. "A little rub route. It wasn't designed for me, but we do it every day. Scramble drill. You get to the corner of the end zone, Joe got it there and make a contested catch. That's one thing we knew we had to do this week."
He got a game ball, too, after his career-high three catches for 42 yards.
"Don 't care much about the accolades, but it's about your boys having your back. That's a great feeling," Irwin said.
TEE IT UP: Wide receiver Tee Higgins was immense with a season-high nine catches for 148 yards. Now on pace for a 1,200-yard season, Higgins moved into the top spot on the team with 712 yards with Chase hopefully back soon after sitting out his third game with a hip injury.
"You know what you're going to get out of Tee every single week. He's a big-time player, No. 1 in this league that works hard, understands his craft and understands what he needs to do every week to get himself ready to play," Burrow said. "You know, I wish I could say that I was surprised about his performance, but this is what is expected of Tee at this point. He just continues to get better and better."
They teamed up for the second biggest play of the game and it was the only third down they faced in the 92-yard and 93-yard drives. It was a dicey part of the game. The Acrisure crowd was it its rowdy best, the field was slippery, T.J. Watt glowered and it was a 10-10 game early in the second quarter with Burrow staring at a third-and-four from his 14. He got Higgins one-on-one with safety Terrell Edmunds and Higgins was gone for 24 yards running and catching over the middle.
"They gave us a look we practiced all week," Higgins said. "I saw it presnap. I knew the ball was coming to me and when the ball comes to me its my job to make a play on it. Joe Burrow, the way he gets in a rhythm, you know how it all goes, how off the offense goes once gets in a rhythm. It's still shocking how smart he is and how he makes checks and audibles."
DRUE DRAWS IT UP: Punter Drue Chrisman's NFL debut couldn't have been much better. He drilled punts of 53 and 57 yards and the third and last was probably the best when he gutted out a 40-yarder from his own end zone with 11:41 left in a 27-23 game and got a fair catch at the Bengals 47.
"We like fair catches," Chrisman said. "It's never a fun place to be for a punter. I'm happy to get it out of there and get a chance for a little bit of field position."
Chrisman didn't get a game ball, but maybe this was even better. The man he replaced Sunday, all-time Bengals punter Kevin Huber, made sure he got Chrisman the ball he used for his first NFL punt, which went 53 yards and almost ended up in a safety when the Steelers misplayed it.
"Kevin's been phenomenal," Chrisman said. "Even today he just helped me manage certain conditions. He's been great from day one and continues to be."
Huber, who was inactive and saw his streak of punting in 138 games snapped, gave Chrisman some great advice as the temperatures slid into the 20s.
"He had the sweats he keeps in the K (kicking) bag for cold weather," Chrisman said. "I never thought about putting the sweats over the pads while I was on the sideline. That made a big difference in helping the leg stay warm all day instead of trying to pace up and down the sideline."
SHUTTING THE OPENER: It will be recalled the Bengals offensive line took considerable heat for giving up seven sacks in the overtime loss to the Steelers Opening Day. They gave up just two Sunday and Burrow couldn't say enough about right tackle La'el Collins and left tackle Jonah Williams.
"Man, good. Jonah was locked in all day. And, you know, when you're going up against TJ Watt like LC was all day and we drop back the way that we are, and we didn't really help him that much," Burrow said. "There weren't a lot of ribs and chips. So those guys were unbelievable. TJ's going to get one every now and then, but LC was lights out all day."
Watt had a half-sack, but he also had another ridiculous interception that he plucked at the Bengals 21 down 27-23 that should have been a game-changer but the Bengals defense made sure it wasn't and held it to a field goal.
Watt did the same thing to Burrow in the opener.
"Man, that guy. I mean, I've never seen plays like that made before from a defensive linemen," Burrow said. "And he's made two against me this year. I would love to say that there's something I can do about that, but there's just nothing I can do about that."