Either Burrow would find a way to escape a relentless Steelers pass rush and put the Bengals up by two scores, or the Bengals would give the last-place Steelers their second chance this season to beat them on a walk-off win.
Burrow was struggling to get passes over the Steelers’ defensive line. It was the coldest NFL game he had played in. The Bengals were missing two Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (hip) and running back Joe Mixon (concussion).
Burrow then calmly delivered the game-clinching touchdown drive to keep this Bengals season on track. Following an eight-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, the Bengals took a two-score lead on their way to a 37-30 win at Acrisure Stadium win over their biggest rival.
Joe Burrow excels under pressure vs. Steelers
When Burrow got the ball in the middle of the fourth quarter, it was the most pressure he faced all season. Without two stars, he had to get the best out of what the Bengals still had against a Steelers defense that knew the Bengals wanted to throw the ball.
Without that drive, the Bengals would have fallen back to .500 on the season. They wouldn’t have been able to rationalize their season by saying “this is where we were last year.” They would have become 0-4 in the division, and their division title chances would have become extremely slim.
Burrow knew all of that as he took the field in the shadows of his goal post. Then, he delivered the type of drive that only a handful of NFL quarterbacks can make.
First, it was a perfect deep throw to Tyler Boyd, who didn’t have a catch before that play. Burrow perfectly placed the ball to Boyd, who made a leaping 27-yard catch over his shoulder. With the Steelers paying a ton of attention to Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who topped 100 yards, Burrow had to be more creative than he was in the first half, when the offense stayed afloat with quick passes, throws to the running backs and screens.
On the next play, Burrow trusted practice squad receiver Trenton Irwin to win his one-on-one matchup on the right sideline. Burrow threw it to him on a short out route, and Irwin made a toe tapping catch. Then, Irwin spun around the cornerback, raced down the field and picked up 32 yards.
NFL WEEK 11: Cowboys dominate Vikings; Lions stun Giants
4th & MONDAY: Our NFL newsletter always brings the blitz
Samaje Perine’s third touchdown seals Bengals’ win vs. Steelers
Following another first down throw to Boyd, the Bengals made it inside the red zone. On second down, Burrow read the defense and checked the ball down to running back Samaje Perine, who scampered into the end-zone for his third touchdown of the day.
It was an inconsistent game for the Bengals, and they could have folded and seen their season start a potential spiral. Instead, for the second consecutive season, Burrow bailed the Bengals out in their first game after the bye week with a season-changing touchdown drive.
On Sunday, the Bengals offense was hot and cold. By featuring Mixon and Perine in the passing game early on and with some physical plays down the field by Higgins, the Bengals offense dropped 17 points in the second half. But the Bengals defense allowed 20 as the Steelers took a three-point lead into halftime.
Early in the game, the Bengals threw the kitchen sink at Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett with every blitz in the book. Pickett picked those blitzes apart to keep the Steelers offense rolling.
Bengals defense shuts down Kenny Pickett, Steelers in second half
But after halftime, the Bengals defense had four straight three-and-outs. The Bengals only allowed two first downs in the second half before they put the game away. The defense stopped blitzing, defensive end Trey Hendrickson took over the game and disguises in the Bengals secondary forced Pickett to make poor decisions.
The Bengals survived a poor third quarter from Burrow, a portion of the game where the Bengals offensive line couldn’t block and a stretch of plays where it felt like the Steelers were batting down all of Burrow’s passes.
But then in the third quarter, Burrow made a 33-yard throw to Higgins and a touchdown throw to Irwin to take the lead. Then Burrow, the Bengals franchise player, gave the Steelers the knockout punch with the 93-yard drive to put the game away.
Burrow responded to the pressure of a season-changing road game versus a division rival. For the second straight year, when the Bengals’ backs were against the wall, Burrow was the difference.