Updated 4 hours ago
Five things we learned from Steelers 29, Bengals 14:
1.Vontaze Burfict remains public enemy No. 1 among Steelers fans.
The controversial Bengals linebacker was at it again Sunday, creating a stir before the game even started.
Burfict is one of the Bengals’ five captains and when the players came to midfield for the coin toss, he refused to shake hands with Steelers captains Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward and Roosevelt Nix. Burfict kept his hands firmly behind his back and hurried back to the sideline almost as soon as the coin hit the grass.
Burfict is a dirty player and a real SOB he has no business on an NFL team… showed us again today when he kicked one of our players
— Alan Bach (@Analog_1) October 23, 2017
That was just one example of the vitriol unleashed on Burfict via Twitter. Here is another sampling:
I’d say he’s garbage, but garbage at one time was at least worth something!!!
— Diane Hake (@dianehake) October 22, 2017
In the first quarter, Burfict was on the ground after a play when he used both feet to kick Nix in the helmet. Looking at an official, Burfict pointed at Nix in an apparent attempt to deflect any blame for the kick. Somehow, Burfict was not penalized.
Burfict was fairly quiet thereafter. He had only two solo tackles and assisted on two others.
To the Steelers’ credit, they did not let Burfict’s antics impact their play. They did not retaliate against Burfict and, in fact, drew just one penalty for five yards the entire game.
I’d like to say I’m surprised but the fact that Burfict is a captain is all you need to know about the Bengals and what they’re about https://t.co/uv6PEQoWNi
— Em (@ekinggggg) October 22, 2017
2. The offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean.
The red-zone problems will be magnified this week – and rightfully so. A 1-for-6 showing inside the 20 that included a 1-for-3 effort on goal-to-go situations kept the score much closer than necessary. But that shouldn’t overshadow the work of the offensive line that was without Marcus Gilbert for another week.
Gilbert has played just one quarter in the past five games. This time, did anyone even notice?
Chris Hubbard filled in capably, and the line, which also welcomed back Ramon Foster after a one-game absence, didn’t allow a sack.
Last season, the Steelers gave up just 21 sacks, which were the second-fewest in the NFL. Through seven weeks, Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times. Only four teams have permitted fewer.
3. The Steelers had the better rookie pass rusher on the field.
T.J. Watt had recorded one sack over his previous four games, which allowed Bengals linebacker Carl Lawson to take the lead among NFL rookies with 3.5 sacks. Watt was right behind him with three.
Watt served a reminder why the Steelers selected him in the first round of the draft. He had one of the Steelers’ four sacks in the fourth quarter, dropping Andy Dalton for a seven-yard loss. Watt had two other quarterback hits, five solo tackles and seemingly was in the backfield for much of the game.
At one point, Watt and Bud Dupree switched sides, with Watt lining up on the left side of the defense. Perhaps Watt was motivated by the work James Harrison did in the fourth quarter the previous week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
After logging 15 snaps against the Chiefs, Harrison was on the field for just seven plays against the Bengals.
As for Lawson? He was a non-factor, collecting one assisted tackle on 17 snaps.
4. Like the rest of the Bengals offense, A.J. Green was missing in the second half.
Green was off to a solid start, catching three passes for 41 yards in the first half as the Bengals forged a 14-14 tie midway through the second quarter.
The NFL’s second-leading wide receiver, however, wasn’t heard from again. Neither was the Bengals’ other starting receiver, Brandon LaFell, who caught a six-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Green and LaFell were kept off the stat sheet for the final 32 minutes while Dalton was completing just 6 of 13 passes for 34 yards.
Green entered the game with some impressive career numbers against the Steelers: 77 catches, 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. He also was recognized for helping the Bengals bounce back from an 0-3 start.
Green’s absence in the second half was emblematic of the problems surrounding the Bengals, who are 2-4 and trail the Steelers by 2.5 games in the AFC North.
5.Stephon Tuitt doesn’t need to hurry back.
With a bye week coming after the Steelers play the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, the Steelers might be wise to hold out Tuitt for another game.
Tuitt didn’t dress against the Bengals because of a back injury.
His absence against the Bengals never became an issue thanks to the play of veteran Tyson Alualu.
Showing again that he is an upgrade over 2016 defensive line backup Ricardo Mathews, Alualu played 80 percent of the snaps against the Bengals and had four tackles. He also had one of the three sacks of Dalton within a four-play span in the fourth quarter.
Tuitt missed two games and all but two snaps of another at the start of the season because of a biceps injury. It’s not the kind of season Tuitt envisioned when he signed his big contract before the start of the year. He can still salvage it with a strong second half, but there’s little reason for the 5-2 Steelers to get him back on the field until after the bye.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.