What it means: The team that was for all this season the king of the AFC North is no longer the division's top dog. After leading the division since Week 11, the Bengals lost their handle in the final week of the regular season and dropped the de facto AFC North title game to the Steelers on the road. In a mostly ugly prime-time performance reminiscent of other recent big games, it also wasn't the type of play Cincinnati wanted to exhibit as it enters the playoffs at Indianapolis desperate to reverse its 24-year postseason winless streak on Sunday.
Stock watch: Cincinnati's special-teams stock has soared all season, with its punt and kickoff teams performing among the best in the league. The punt return team had one play in the middle of the fourth quarter that very nearly turned the momentum Sunday. With 5:50 remaining, Pittsburgh punter Brad Wing attempted a pass on a fake punt. The Bengals didn't appear to be fooled by it and dropped a few players into coverage, including receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. He intercepted the pass, which pushed the momentum onto the Bengals' side of ledger late in the game. It didn't last.
Game ball: Instead of just looking at the regular-season finale, this game ball is going to the player we're deeming the best on the team this season. The honor goes to rookie running back Jeremy Hill. His emergence should have come sooner, but since Hill began getting greater responsibilities in Week 9, the Bengals have had one of the league's top rushing units. Combine that with the fact he finished the season with 1,124 yards, and you get another reason he deserved the team's top honors. Hill is only the 10th Bengal to gain more than 1,000 yards in team history. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he had 100 yards on 23 carries. It was the fifth time this season Hill had more than 100 yards rushing -- the most 100-yard games for a Bengals rusher since 2009, when Cedric Benson had six.
Green takes hard hit: Six days after suffering a deep biceps bruise when he took a helmet to his right arm, Bengals receiver A.J. Green responded with a strong second-half showing before getting knocked out of the game with a hard blow to his head. There were about four minutes remaining in the game when Green caught a 17-yard pass for a first down as Steelers corner Antwon Blake forced a fumble. A second later, safety Mike Mitchell hit Green in the head as the receiver turned around empty-handed. The play came just after Green had suddenly become a factor. After catching just two passes for 15 yards on six targets in the first half, Green caught six passes for 67 yards on the final two drives in which he took part. The Pro Bowl receiver was just returning to form before the hit. He finished the game with 82 yards receiving -- just enough to push him over the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth consecutive season.
What's next? It's the fourth straight season the Bengals have made the playoffs and the sixth time they have reached the postseason in Marvin Lewis' 12 seasons as head coach. In each of their first five playoff appearances under Lewis, they've lost in their first game. That gives Sunday's matchup a greater sense of urgency. The last time Cincinnati faced Indianapolis, back in October, the Bengals lost 27-0.