The 6-0 start to the 1988 season seemed like a distant memory as the Cincinnati Bengals limped into Week 10 having lost two of their last three games to see their AFC Central Division lead trimmed to one game.
But Eddie Brown, James Brooks and the rest of the Cincinnati offense got things revved up again on a chilly November afternoon to bludgeon the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers 42-7 at Riverfront Stadium.
Twenty-five years later, that game remains in the record book for the Bengals as the most points ever scored against Pittsburgh as well as the largest margin of victory in the series.
“We’re back to the quick pace we had when we were 6-0,” Bengals head coach Sam Wyche said afterward. “The team is at a point where it’s ready to make a run at things. I don’t think anybody could have beaten us, playing the way we did.”
It all started on the Bengals’ second offensive snap of the game when quarterback Boomer Esiason hit Eddie Brown for an 86-yard touchdown.
Brown finished with 216 yards, a number that ended up being the highest of his seven-year career and remains the third-largest single-game total in franchise history behind Chad Johnson (260) and Terrell Owens (222).
He called it a “Dream day.”
“I look forward to a big day every day,” Brown said after the game in which he also caught a 6-yard TD pass in the third quarter to completely put it out of reach at 35-7.
“You wake up to want to make something happen,” Brown added. “I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with the game where I can extend myself. A great catch may come at any time.”
Running back James Brooks had a career day as well, at least in terms of scoring. Brooks scored on runs of 2, 3 and 9 yards to record the second — and final — three-touchdown game of his career despite gaining just 42 yards on 13 carries.
The performance was a bit of a role reversal as it was usually Brooks getting the big yards and rookie Ickey Woods coming in to finish off the drives with short touchdown runs. But in this game, Woods carried 10 times for 110 yards while Brooks did all of the scoring.
“Things like that happen,” Brooks said. “Next week Ickey may get all the touchdowns and I’ll get the yards.”
The loss was the eighth in nine games for the Steelers, who went on to finish 5-11. The Bengals didn’t created any turnovers but still outgained Pittsburgh 559 to 198, with both numbers holding up as season bests in the regular season.
The Cincinnati offense was clicking so well, the Bengals only took seven third-down snaps in the game.
And the team got some help down south in Houston as the Oilers beat the Browns 24-17 to bump Cincinnati’s division lead back to two, and the race never got any closer after that.
Nov. 6, 1988
At Riverfront Stadium
Cincinnati 42, Pittsburgh 7
Pittsburgh 7 0 0 0 — 7
Cincinnati 14 7 14 7 — 42
C: Eddie Brown 86 pass from Boomer Esiason (Jim Breech kick), 2:47
P: Bubby Brister 9 run (Gary Anderson kick), 8:35
C: Tim McGee 5 pass from Esiason (Breech kick), 13:44
James Brooks 3 run ( Breech kick), 4:19
Brooks 2 run (Breech kick), 2:32
Brown 6 pass from Esiason (Breech kick), 5:18
Brooks 9 run (Breech kick), 4:08
Pittsburgh – Bubby Brister 11-29-0-147; Cincinnati – Boomer Esiason 16-23-2-318, Turk Schonert 2-3-0-20
Pittsburgh – Merrill Hoge 15-46, Warren Williams 10-44, Earnest Jackson 1-4, Bubby Brister 4-7; Cincinnati – Ickey Woods 10-110, James Brooks 13-42, Stanley Wilson 7-31, Stanford Jennings 3-19, Marc Logan 1-9, Boomer Esiason 1-7, Turk Schonert 1-3
Pittsburgh – Weegie Thompson 3-57, Merrill Hoge 4-37, Louis Lipps 2-27, Warren Williams 2-27; Cincinnati – Eddie Brown 7-216, Cris Collinsworth 1-36, Marc Logan 2-20, Ickey Woods 2-18, James Brooks 2-18, Tim McGee 2-14, Stanley Wilson 1-9, Jim Riggs 1-7