The Cincinnati Bengals got down early to the Pittsburgh Steelers and clawed their way back. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton threw two crucial interceptions on promising fourth quarter drives and the Steelers held on to beat the Bengals 24-17.
The Bengals defense once again provided a second half shutdown, holding the Steelers to just over 100 yards total offense after giving up over 200 in the first half. Ultimately it was the Pittsburgh defense that came up with the key turnovers while the Bengals missed opportunities.
Both teams wanted to get their defense on the field first. The Steelers won the toss and elected to defer, putting Andy Dalton and the young Bengals up against the teeth of the Pittsburgh team right away. The Bengals went three and out and punting into a stiff wind, Kevin Huber could only get the ball just past midfield, putting Pittsburgh in great starting field position.
The Steelers quickly moved into the red zone with two passes to Mike Wallace and a reverse using him as well. Ben Roethlisberger broke containment on third down and found Jericho Cotchery free for a 16 yard touchdown pass to put the Steelers up early 7-0.
After another three and out, Roethlisberger hit Rashard Mendenhall for a big gain into Bengals territory and ran another reverse with Wallace down to the Cincinnati 33. Hines Ward took a wide receiver screen to the 20 before Roethlisberger converted another third and long, this time finding Heath Miller down the seem. Miller absorbed a vicious hit from Reggie Nelson but held on. Rashard Mendenhall went in on the next play and just like that the Steelers led 14-0.
The first two series showed the Bengals defense selling out with blitzes, but not getting to Roethlisberger who made them pay each time. If Cincinnati was to stay in the game, they would have to put together a drive on offense as well as make some adjustments on defense.
Andy Dalton and Andrew Hawkins hooked up on third down to preserve the next drive and get the ball to midfield. Bernard Scott then ripped off an 11 yard gain to take the ball to the Steelers 36. That's when Dalton found AJ Green in the back of end zone. Green leapt to make an acrobatic catch over two Steeler defenders, but came down awkwardly prompting attention from Bengals trainers. Green limped off the field under his own power but Cincinnati was within 14-7. The catch would be costly though as Green would only return for one more play before being sidelined the rest of the game.
The second quarter started even more auspiciously for Cincinnati when Roethlisberger's pass to Heath Miller was bobbled allowing Leon Hall to intercept it at the Steeler 40. Cedric Benson ran for five yards and then Andrew Hawkins converted the first down on a reverse. The drive stalled however when Jermaine Gresham was tackled by two Pittsburgh defenders but didn't get the pass interference call. Mike Nugent remained dependable with a 43 yard field goal and the Bengals cut the lead to 14-10.
The Cincinnati defense continued the momentum swing by stopping the Steelers on three downs forcing a punt. The Bengals picked up a first down and moved it out to midfield, but had to punt where he pinned the Steelers back inside their own 20.
The next Steeler drive would be marked by missed opportunities by the Bengals. First, Reggie Nelson dropped an interception. After Pittsburgh picked up a first down, Cincinnati got to Big Ben twice and sacked him. Antonio Brown made a fine reception on a third and 19 however to keep the drive alive. Antonio Brown continued to make impressive catches as the Steelers completed two more third downs and took it down near the red zone a the two minute warning. After a holding penalty, Brown again beat his coverage taking the ball down to the Bengals 16. Geno Atkins recorded the third Bengals sack of the drive, finally stopping Pittsburgh on third down. Shaun Suisham kicked a 39 yard field goal to put the Steelers back on top by a touchdown at 17-10. Adding injury to insult, cornerback Leon Hall went out with an Achilles injury and did not return.
All told, Cincinnati was fortunate to be within one score at the half after being scorched in the opening minutes. Just like last Sunday, they had allowed over 200 yards in the first half and trailed at the break. Could they pull a repeat performance when it counted?
The defense did their job, holding the Steelers to a three and out on the opening possession of the second half. The offense responded as well. A combination of Dalton passes and Benson runs got the Bengals inside the red zone, the key play being a seam route to Colin Cochart taking the ball down to the Steeler 11. A Pittsburgh personal foul gave Cincinnati a first and goal at the one. On second down, Andy Dalton hit Jermaine Gresham in the corner on a great play action pass. With Nugent's extra point, the Bengals had drawn even at 17-17. Their opening drive took 11 plays and covered 65 yards.
Pittsburgh and Big Ben responded like a veteran team though, with Big Ben and Antonio Brown hooking up again to move the ball into the Cincinnati side of the field. The Steelers used a hurry up approach, finally breaking through when Rashard Mendenhall broke several tackles to take it in from 11 yards out. After that 11 play 81 yard drive, Pittsburgh was back up 24-17.
As the third quarter drew to a close, the Bengals started driving again themselves with Andrew Hawkins catching a key pass on second and long and another to convert the first down. They bogged down around midfield however and Cincinnati had to punt, giving the defense the task of holding the Steelers. The defense obliged, forcing a three and out. The Bengals had great field position at midfield but Dalton was intercepted when Lawrence Timmons came down with a deflection intended for Andre Caldwell.
After the defense held Pittsburgh, the Bengals got the ball out of the shadow of their own goalpost and were across midfield when a phantom holding call against Andrew Whitworth stalled the drive. The Bengals defense was equal to the task, forcing Pittsburgh to punt again.The Bengals took over at the Pittsburgh 48 with 4:28 to play needing a touchdown.
Cedric Benson immediately responded, getting the ball down to the Steelers 26 on two carries. Andy Dalton didn't see William Gay though as he stepped in front of Jerome Simpson ending the Bengals drive. Pittsburgh picked up a first down and ended any hopes the Bengals had.
The Bengals had their shot today, but couldn't open or close the deal. Cincinnati controlled play for much of the day, but Pittsburgh's fast start and Cincinnati turnovers when they had scoring chances sealed their demise.
With the loss, Cincinnati drops to 6-3 and now sits a half game behind Pittsburgh, and depending on the outcome of their game, most likely the Ravens as well. It will be those Ravens who Cincinnati will visit next week.
This one will sting for the Bengals as they had plenty of opportunities to take down the champion Steelers. It will be up to Marvin Lewis and the coaches to get them refocused for the challenge that remains before them.
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