November 10, 1991: The Day the Modern “Steelers vs. Bengals” Rivalry Changed Forever

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November 10, 1991

O’Donnell Shines as Rivalry is Turned

Steelers 33 – Bengals 27 (O.T.)

Things didn’t start off well for the Steelers as the game opened, and like they had so many times in 1991, they fell behind early.  Boomer Esiason and the Bengals capitalized on the ineffectiveness of the Steelers’ Offense and quickly got the Bengals out to a 10-0 lead by the time the 1st Quarter ended.  It certainly looked like that despite the Bengals struggles early in 1991, that the rivalry was still in their favor and the Steelers could find no answer to beating them.

Luckily for the Steelers, in 1991 they had arguably the best regular season Kicker in N.F.L. history on their team at the time: Gary Anderson.  It was Anderson who since 1982 was a mainstay and leading scorer for the Steelers during their lean Offensive years of the 1980’s.  In the 2nd Quarter Anderson kicked two Field Goals, the first from 44 and the second from 46 yards to put the Steelers on the board with 6 points.  Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, sandwiched between the Anderson Field Goals was an Esiason 18 yard TD pass to his TE Rodney Holman.  The Half Time score stood at 17-6 in favor of Cincinnati, and the Steelers were in desperate need of a big play when the 3rd Quarter got underway.  Luckily for them, they got it in the form of a spot-starter yet their team sack leader in 1991.

LB Jerrol Williams, who finished the season with 9.0 sacks, scored his only career TD when he returned a Cincy. fumble 38 yards and made it across the Goal Line.  The Steelers used this big play by Williams to cut the deficit to 4 points and the game remained 17-13 until the 4th Quarter started.

Cincinnati however managed to put together a drive, and halfway through the 4th Quarter it appeared as if the Bengals had amassed an insurmountable 24-13 lead when Ickey Woods “shuffled” his way into the End Zone on a 1 yard TD run.

In a game that was somewhat meaningless in terms of its playoff implications, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the athletic yet “green” Steelers had just packed it in and called it a day.  However, Neil O’Donnell showed Pittsburgh’s Coaching Staff exactly what he could do, and Neil and the young yet talented Steeler Offense kept attacking the Cincinnati Defense and finally got them to crack.

O’Donnell led his troops down the field after the Woods TD and took advantage of Cincinnati’s Defense’s failure to put them away.  First, O’Donnell brought the Steelers right back into the game when he fired a 35 yard TD pass to future clutch WR Ernie Mills!  The score stood at 24-20 and Cincinnati still could not find a way to put the final nail in the upstart Steelers’ coffin.

With his team needing another TD and the game winding down, O’Donnell delivered again.  The Steelers were able to take the lead inside the final two minutes when O’Donnell threw another TD pass.  The 12 yard TD to veteran and fan-favorite WR Louis Lipps gave the Steelers a 27-24 lead and all seemed to be going right.

Cincinnati and Esiason to their credit didn’t tap out after the Lipps TD, and Kicker Jim Breech was able to nail a 47 yard Field Goal to send the game into O.T..  With the game headed into sudden-death, a big play was needed again for the Steelers to find a way to pull out a miraculous road win against a team that had given them fits for the last decade.  That’s when future All-Pro LB Greg Lloyd stepped up to the proverbial plate and delivered a knockdown blow to the Bengals chances.

With Cincinnati driving in the middle of O.T., Ickey Woods caught a pass and looked to keep the Bengals’ Offense moving, Lloyd hit Woods, jarred the ball loose, and showing shades of Rod Woodson in the ’89 Wild Card Game picked the ball up and started running down the field!

Lloyd was eventually stopped around the Bengals 30, and it appeared that the game was in hand because Anderson was money from just over 45 yards out.  Yet on a day that belonged to Neil O’Donnell, the Steeler Offense went for the kill and another one of their young and talented stars came through in the clutch.

O’Donnell threw a 26 yard TD pass to future Pro-Bowl TE (yet big-time loafer) Eric Green on a play-call that totally caught Cincy’s Defense off-guard, and the Steelers won the game 33-27 in O.T.!  In a wacky turn of events that day, the Steelers career winless QB fired 3 TD passes in the 4th Quarter and O.T. to lead an 11 point 4th Quarter comeback on the road!  Moreover, O’Donnell completed passes to 8 different receivers that day to 4 WR’s, 1 TE, and 3 RB’s (Lipps, Hoge, Mills, Green, Stone, Calloway, Williams, and Thompson).  How the Hell Cincinnati allowed an unknown like O’Donnell to go 24 for 39 for 309 yards and 3 TD’s without a turnover was crazy.

Oh I also felt I would mention to those that didn’t know, but can somebody tell me who was the Bengals’ Defensive Coordinator in 1991?  Give up?!  That’s right, the same character whose Defense was ranked 28th out of 28th in points allowed in 1991 and was summarily fired after the 1991 season ended and took his dog-and-pony show to Pittsburgh the following season: Dick LeBeau.  Sorry I had to mention that, but I’m still livid about last Sunday night.

Franchises in the Immediate Aftermath:

Despite the fact that O’Donnell would only win 1 more game the rest of the season and Brister would lead the Steelers to wins in their final 2 games, the Steelers finished with a 7-9 record in yet another mediocre season.  Noll as I stated before and as we all remember would leave after the season, and be eventually replaced by the guy that got the franchise the “One for the Thumb,” in the form of Bill Cowher in 1992.

The Bengals however weren’t so lucky.  After mailing it in in 1991, Cincinnati finished the season with a 3-13 record.  Obviously changes needed to be made, and their Head Coach Sam Wyche, and Defensive Coordinator LeBeau were both fired.  Cincinnati and Mike Brown tried to rebuild, but they really screwed the pooch in 1992 when they first made the ridiculous decision of hiring Dave Shula as their Head Coach based essentially on name alone.  Then Cincinnati threw away their 1st Round pick in the 1992 Draft when they selected the ultimate system QB from the ultimate system QB factory, the University of Houston, in the form of David Klingler with the 6th overall pick.  Klingler got a nice welcoming present from the Steelers in Week 13 of the 1992 season when he was sacked 10 times in a 21-9 loss at Riverfront.