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Shortcomings of Bengals, backup QB Browning apparent in blowout by Steelers

Jake Browning Cincinnati Bengals Jake Browning - The Canadian Press

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals' confidence and playoff hopes came crashing down in Pittsburgh two days before Christmas.

Cincinnati had won three straight games to sneak back into the playoff picture. But the Bengals badly needed to beat the Steelers on Saturday to stay there. Instead, Cincinnati (8-7) took a thorough beating by one of the worst offenses in the league.

Jake Browning, making his fifth start in place of the injured Joe Burrow, threw three interceptions on ill-advised passes. And the Steelers exploited the Bengals' other weaknesses. Cincinnati couldn't run the ball — What else is new? — and the defense couldn't contain Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback.

The Steelers (8-7) hadn't managed to score 24 points in a game since Oct. 22. On Saturday they led 24-0 at the half en route to a 34-11 win.

The Bengals' collapse is hard to explain. With Rudolph at quarterback, practice-squad call-ups at linebacker and safety, and general in-house turmoil, the Steelers seemed beatable.

“I don't have an answer for you,” Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard said.

“We just have to continue to pick up the pieces and find a way to be better next week,” coach Zac Taylor said.

The Bengals are on the verge of missing the playoffs after winning the AFC North the last two years. They play at Kansas City on New Year's Eve.

“We don't overreact. We've done some really good things the last couple weeks,” Taylor said. “(Saturday) wasn't a great experience for us. We know what the narrative will be going forward, and so we'll just own up to it, be accountable to it and be ready to put our best foot forward at Kansas City.”


Browning threw for 335 yards and — with star receiver Ja'Marr Chase sidelined — distributed the ball to 10 receivers.


Browning is making some bad decisions. Two of his first-half interceptions turned into Steelers touchdowns. The running game has been lackluster all season, allowing pass rushers to turn up the heat on Browning, who was sacked three times.

The 27-year-old Browning, who could be auditioning for other teams that need a quarterback next season, looked overwhelmed against the Steelers after performing extremely well in his previous three starts, all wins.

“There are lots of quarterbacks who had a bad game,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to respond. That’s where I’m at, and that’s where we’re at.”


WR Tee Higgins had five catches for a season-high 140 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter.


Bengals defensive backs got smoked for two long touchdowns by George Pickens, and Rudolph was effective throwing deep.


Losing DT DJ Reader for the season hurt the Bengals' ability to stop the run. The Steelers ran for 113 yards. ... It's unclear when Chase (shoulder) could return.


3-7 — Cincinnati's record against AFC teams.


The Bengals need to clear this debacle from their minds quickly. They have to face the playoff-bound Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before the regular-season finale at home against Cleveland, which is highly likely to make the playoffs for the first time since 2020.