The Bengals' 41-10 destruction of the Pittsburgh Steelers ushered in a new feeling of hope in Cincinnati. It marked a season sweep for the Bengals and Cincy's third straight win over its Rust Belt rivals.
"Beating these guys for me twice and some of these other guys three times, it's a big changing of the guard in our opinion," Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton said, via the team's official website. "It gives us a lot of confidence and guys are excited to see how the season plays out."
Hilton knows both sides of the Bengals-Steelers rivalry, having played the past four seasons in Pittsburgh.
The new Bengals corner helped squash any comeback hopes for the Steelers. After a Joe Burrow interception with under a minute to go in the first half, Pittsburgh tried to capitalize. But Hilton intercepted a wobbly Ben Roethlisberger pass and raced to the end zone. The play gave Cincy a 31-3 halftime lead. The final two quarters were a party in Ohio.
"You know those guys, what they like to do in certain situations," Hilton said of his INT. "You know who they like to get the ball to. We had a little insight that put me in position to make a play and I had to make it."
The Bengals scored 40-plus points and won by 30-plus points against the Steelers for the third time in the 103-game history of the matchup. Cincinnati swept the season series against Pittsburgh for the first time since the 2009 season.
The Bengals have won three straight games against the Steelers for the first time since winning six consecutive from 1988-1990 -- only four players on the Bengals roster were even alive in the fall of 1990.
It wasn't just that the Bengals have won three straight. It's that they've demolished Pittsburgh twice this season. On Sunday, the Steelers were run over by Joe Mixon, who had 165 yards and two TDs on 28 carries while playing just two fourth-quarter snaps.
The defeat has many in Pittsburgh hanging their heads.
"It wasn't something any of us are proud of," Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt said, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. "You never want to have that feeling coming out of a game. We put it on tape and now we have to own it, move forward and know that everybody sees what just happened today and what we can expect moving forward. We have to stop this before it continues to unravel and become a bigger issue than what it already is.
"We can't keep playing like this. It's absolutely embarrassing."
Sunday marked the worst loss for Roethlisberger in his career against an AFC North team (previous was a 28-point loss in Week 1, 2011 at Baltimore). It was also the worst loss for the Steelers against an AFC North team since the division was created in 2002.
The 31-point beatdown tied for the worst loss Mike Tomlin has suffered in his tenure (34-3 defeat in Week 3, 2016 at Philadelphia).
"It's alarming, it is," Tomlin said of his defense giving up so many points. "We're not trying to play it cool by any stretch. We don't play football like that, but we have been our last couple of weeks, so some adjustments need to be made."
Sitting at 5-5-1 after back-to-back losses preceded by a home tie with the winless Lions, the Steelers must turn the tide swiftly to have any chance of getting into the playoff picture. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't portend to the season ending well in Pittsburgh, with games against the Ravens (twice), Vikings, Titans, Chiefs and Browns on tap.
Meanwhile, the Bengals look primed to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2015, if Zac Taylor's 7-4 squad can avoid a late-season collapse.