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2023 NFL season, Week 16: What We Learned from Saturday's doubleheader 

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 · 8-7-0
Cincinnati Bengals
2023 · 8-7-0


Michael Baca's takeaways:

  1. Steelers put up season-high 34 points to stay alive. With their backs against the wall amid a competitive AFC playoff race, the Steelers showed up with a dominant performance that made things easy against the Bengals. George Pickens was the star of the show, making the most of his four catches with a career-high 195 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The second-year wideout set the tone on the Steelers' opening drive, shaking rookie cornerback DJ Turner on a simple post route before scooting a third of the field for an 86-yard score. Pickens would utilize his speed again in the third quarter, burning veteran CB Chidobe Awuzie on a go route that went 66 yards toward pay dirt. The splash plays were essential for a Steelers team that has struggled to put up points. They happened to do it with Mason Rudolph at the helm; Pittsburgh's third starting quarterback of 2023. Rudolph completed 17 of 27 passes for 290 yards, two TDs, zero interceptions and a 124.0 passer rating. The mistake-free performance was a sight for sore eyes for a Pittsburgh crowd that was chanting his name by game's end. While it isn't expected to conjure a QB controversy in the final two games of the season, Rudolph guided the Steelers through the fogginess for a week. Befittingly enough, it will lead to a Merry Christmas in Pittsburgh. 
  2. Bengals' playoff aspirations circling the drain. The intriguing storyline of backup QB Jake Browning potentially salvaging Cincinnati's season might have ended with Saturday's loss. Browning had a rough first half, leading five drives that went punt, interception, punt, INT and a turnover on downs. His two first-half interceptions led to a pair of Pittsburgh TDs, and the turnover on downs came after an incompletion in the end zone on a fourth-and-1 play from the 5-yard line. It was rough sledding for a Cincinnati team that saw a 24-0 deficit entering halftime and a normally stout defense seemingly gassed after two quarters. Tee Higgins made a play on an 80-yard TD grab to get the game within two scores on Cincy's opening drive of the third quarter, but Pickens would soon negate that score three plays later. Browning, who finished 28-of-42 passing for 335 yards, one TD and three INTs, missed several throws to wide-open receivers and saw his biggest mistakes in the red zone (Bengals 0 for 3 in RZ possessions). While Ja'Marr Chase's absence was certainly felt, Browning had his worst performance since facing the Steelers four weeks ago, and it may result in Cincinnati being on the outside looking in. 
  3. Veteran defenders step up for Pittsburgh. Forcing turnovers on two of the Bengals' first three possessions, the Steelers D was paramount in the dominant win, and Pittsburgh has a handful of experienced veterans to thank. Patrick Peterson started the turnover party by identifying Browning's wounded duck as it sailed into the end zone, and Eric Rowe, who was elevated from the practice squad for this game, made a great play on the sideline for a pick that prompted the rout. Myles Jack, another practice-squad call-up for Pittsburgh, was all over the field in his first start of 2023, collecting one sack, two QB hits and six total tackles (one TFL). Of course, the presence of pass rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith was paramount, as well. Watt's constant pressure (1.0 sacks, four QB hits) had Browning hesitant in the pocket all day, and Highsmith (1.0 sacks) was to blame for Browning's third INT of the night in the fourth quarter. Mike Tomlin's defense certainly made things easier for an offense starting a third-string QB, but the complimentary performance as a whole was ideal for a team that needs to get hot down the stretch after ending a three-game skid. 

NFL Research: The Steelers have scored 30-plus points in one game in each of the last two seasons, with both games coming at home versus Cincinnati.

Next Gen stat of the game:  On the Steelers' second play from scrimmage, Pickens reached a top speed of 21.54 mph (fastest by a PIT ball carrier since 2017), and gained 77 yards after catch (+71 YACOE, most on any play in over two seasons).

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Buffalo Bills
2023 · 9-6-0
Los Angeles Chargers
2023 · 5-10-0


Brenna White's takeaways:

  1. Josh Allen is hungry for postseason football. The Bills' midseason slip could possibly end up ceding the team's division title hopes to Miami, but the offense has flipped a switch for a playoff push of late and the unit saw success with splash plays again against the Chargers. Gabe Davis' 57-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter ended Buffalo's slow start (punts on first three possessions), and his connection with Allen was essential to Buffalo's success despite a turnover-filled outing. Davis averaged 32.5 yards per reception and continuously breathed life into the offense with each one of his four catches. Allen played well despite an underthrown interception in the third quarter that aided a Chargers comeback attempt. Completing 15 of 21 passes for 237 yards with one TD and the INT, Allen scored two touchdowns on the ground and stepped his game up on the Bills' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, connecting on 4 of 5 attempts during a 64-yard drive that ended with Tyler Bass' game-winning field goal. It may not have been pretty, but Allen got it done for the Bills when it most mattered in crunch time. The win puts the Bills as the current No. 6 seed in the AFC, and they're already in postseason mode as they ride a four-game winning streak into Week 17.
  2. Chargers fall short, but show fight. Los Angeles was not far off from pulling off an upset in its first game after the end of the Brandon Staley era. Chargers QB Easton Stick came out of the gate hot, guiding the Chargers on a 14-play, 90-yard drive to get the game's first points and followed that up with a TD run after the Bills muffed a punt. Stick tossed darts left and right, but he did struggle near and around the end zone. However, the clutch kicking of Cameron Dicker ultimately made up for those red-zone woes. Dicker made all five of his field goal attempts, accounting for 16 of the Chargers' 22 points, including a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 5:26 remaining. Although the Bills ended up with the game-winning score on the subsequent drive, the Chargers didn't make life easy with interim head coach Giff Smith at the helm. Stick completed 23 of 33 passes for 210 yards and had a 86.7 passer rating in his second-career start. While the Chargers were officially eliminated from the playoff race with the loss, the team played well and showed plenty of grit as they begin to transition into a new era.
  3. Bills’ offense slips by Chargers defense late. The Bolts were well-prepared for Buffalo's offense, taking control and advantage of every small mistake the Bills made. Forcing three big turnovers and finding five sacks for a total of 40 yards lost, the Chargers rattled the Bills at times. Defensive tackle Nick Williams and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga each forced fumbles, while safety Alohi Gilman snatched Allen's underthrown ball to sway momentum. However, when it mattered most, the Bills had an answer. Bills wideout Khalil Shakir also was there exactly when he needed to be on the game-winning drive, securing a crucial pass on third down as Allen was blitzed into a backward scramble. The reception was originally called a TD before being overturned and moved to the L.A. 13-yard line, but Shakir’s catch still set up the game-winning field goal and might be looked back upon as the saving grace in the regular season should Buffalo make a deep postseason run.

NFL Research: Josh Allen joined Cam Newton (75 rush TDs) as the second QB in NFL history to have 50 or more rushing TDs in their career. 

Next Gen Stat of the game: Josh Allen was blitzed on half of his dropbacks (11 of 22 drop backs) against the Chargers, his second consecutive game with a blitz rate over 50%, which are his two highest rates in a game this season.

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