Rudolph hits Pickens for 2 long touchdowns, Steelers end 3-game skid with 34-11 win over Bengals


PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mason Rudolph and beleaguered receiver George Pickens connected for two long touchdowns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers kept their fading playoff hopes alive by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 34-11 on Saturday.

Rudolph, making his first start in two years in place of the injured Kenny Pickett and ineffective Mitch Trubisky, hit Pickens for an 86-yard catch-and-run score on Pittsburgh's second offensive snap. He found Pickens with a 66-yard rainbow catch in the third quarter as the Steelers (8-7) snapped a three-game skid.

Pickens caught four passes for 195 yards. Rudolph finished 17 of 27 for 290 yards as the Steelers produced their best offensive performance in years.

Jake Browning threw for 335 yards and a touchdown, but also tossed three picks, which the Steelers converted into points as Cincinnati (8-7) had its three-game winning streak snapped. Pittsburgh took a 24-point lead at halftime and held on the rest of the way.

Pittsburgh's 34 points were its most in any win since 2020. The performance also likely silenced critics of Pickens, who has been scrutinized for sometimes weak play.

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the 22-year-old Pickens' maturity continues, but he declined to bench him. Pickens repaid that loyalty by displaying game-breaking talent that was only sporadically highlighted during his first two seasons, mostly because he played on an offense that made it difficult to move the ball regularly. Have struggled for years.

For a few hours on Christmas Eve, all the negativity surrounding the Steelers went away during the late-season swoon, leading to speculation that Tomlin's 17-year tenure could be over.

Scoring points in the group for the first time in a long time will do the trick. The path to the playoffs remains complicated for Pittsburgh — and who knows what will happen next week in Seattle, when Pickett may be ready to return from right ankle surgery — but the Steelers' first upset of the Bengals since 2019 The sweep has made it a little more navigable.

Rudolph, buried on the depth chart the past two years, was decisive and dynamic, issues that have plagued whoever has lined up behind center this season.

He hit a slant to Pickens, and the receiver displayed the speed and athleticism that made the Steelers so high on him ahead of the 2022 draft. Pickens later connected with a diving 44-yard sideline grab that set up Chris Boswell's 50-yard field goal at the halftime gun. It was Pittsburgh's highest-scoring first half in more than three years.

Tee Higgins finished with five receptions for 140 yards and an 80-yard touchdown for the Bengals, but Browning's mistakes – an ill-advised pass in the end zone in the first quarter in which he was trying to throw the ball away, A tipped ball that ended up in the hands of Steelers safety Eric Rowe and a fourth-down incompletion in the end zone late in the first half put his team in an early hole.

Browning lost 3–2 as the starter in place of franchise QB Joe Burrow, who is out for the season with a right wrist injury.

Steelers: LB Elandon Roberts exited early in the second quarter with a pectoral injury and did not return.

Bengals: Visit Kansas City, where they have been a regular in the playoffs the past two seasons, on Dec. 31.

Steelers: Will try to win in Seattle for the second time in franchise history when they play the Seahawks on Dec. 31.

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