The Pittsburgh Steelers ruined the plan.
On Sunday Night Football, all the Cincinnati Bengals needed to do was beat the Steelers and they would take over the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But 21 first-quarter points from Pittsburgh put the Bengals in a hole they could not dig themselves out of, and the Steelers earned themselves a 30-20 victory.
It started with a Le'Veon Bell touchdown run, but Antonio Brown was the real star early on. He caught a touchdown to put the Steelers up 14-0 and then returned a punt 67 yards to the house to extend Pittsburgh's lead to 21 points.
At that point, it was clear the Bengals are a team that struggles to play with a deficit. Andy Dalton didn't have the full trust of the coaching staff. The game plan stayed conservative, and Cincinnati's offense was stagnant. It took a special teams spark to get the Bengals within striking distance of the end zone, and Giovani Bernard managed to punch in the touchdown.
The Bengals started to fight back after halftime, but it was futile. With a dwindling crowd at Heinz Field, Dalton threw two touchdowns in the second half, but a few field goals from the Steelers kept the lead at a comfortable distance.
Instead of taking over the No. 2 seed in the AFC, Cincinnati stays right where it was to start the night. The AFC North division is still technically up for grabs, and Pittsburgh is still mathematically alive for the playoffs.
That wasn't what the Bengals had in mind.
Fantasy Studs and Duds
Antonio Brown was a stud for the Steelers, just as he has been all season long. He scored two touchdowns for fantasy owners, which is enough to satisfy those lucky enough to make it to the postseason.
Did They Cover?
The Bengals were 1.5-point favorites, according to OddsShark.com, so they did not manage to cover the spread.
The Bengals play the Vikings in Cincinnati on Sunday, December 22 at 1:00 PM EST.
The Steelers head to Green Bay to take on the Packers, next Sunday at 4:25 PM EST.