BENGALS 13, STEELERS 10
Steelers' record: 7-8
One year ago: 11-4
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 53-33
This actually started back on Sept. 16, the whole concept of the Steelers facing a critical game. Back then the opponent was the New York Jets, and the significance at the time was the importance of avoiding an 0-2 start to their season. But this time – against the Cincinnati Bengals – there was nothing nebulous about the stakes for the Steelers. Win, and their hopes for the playoffs and even a division championship, stay alive; lose, and there can be no playoffs for them.
The start of the third quarter often is the critical time in a football game, and so it was on Sunday at Heinz Field. Trailing 10-7, the Bengals received the second half kickoff, and on the first play Cortez Allen intercepted an Andy Dalton pass to give the Steelers possession at the Bengals 32-yard line. Two runs gained 3 yards, and then an 8-yard loss on a third-down sack forced the Steelers to punt. Getting nothing out of that takeaway hurt the Steelers just as it had to be a lift for the Bengals.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT I
The Steelers converted 2-of-14 on third downs, and their 14 percent conversion percentage was the second-lowest of the season. They converted 1-of-9 (11 percent) in Cleveland on Nov. 25.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
This season will mark the first since 2006 in which the Steelers have entered the final game of the regular season with no chance to make the playoffs.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The other team can commit penalties on special teams, too. A holding call on Jason Allen nullified a 62-yard punt return by Adam Jones. So instead of a first down at the Steelers 13-yard line, the Bengals began their second possession of the game at their own 15-yard line.
- The Steelers were trailing by 10-0 late in the first half, and the Steelers offense had managed only 106 total net yards to that point. But on consecutive plays, Ben Roethlisberger completed a 13-yard pass to Antonio Brown and then a 60-yarder to Brown for the touchdown. On the score, Brown got CB Adam Jones to bite on a double move and was all alone when he caught the pass at the 27-yard before sprinting into the end zone to make it 10-7.
- The Bengals received the second half kickoff, and QB Andy Dalton tried to get the ball to WR A.J. Green, who had only three catches for 29 yards in the first half. But Troy Polamalu read the play and jumped up to cover Green, and so when Dalton re-loaded and tried to throw to Andrew Hawkins, Cortez Allen stepped in front for the first interception of his career.
- In a 10-10 game with 1:14 left in the third quarter, Drew Butler got off a 49-yard punt, and Curtis Brown defeated his blocker to dump Adam Jones for a 2-yard loss to force the Bengals to begin the possession at their own 11-yard line.
- One play after committing a 28-yard pass interference penalty on A.J. Green that gave the Bengals possession at the Pittsburgh 42-yard line, Cortez Allen stripped the ball from Green on a short completion and Ryan Clark recovered for the Steelers at the 27-yard line. The Steelers took possession with 14:17 left in the fourth quarter of a 10-10 game.
- Cortez Allen ended up with the interception – his second of the game – but the play was made by Josh Victorian on a pass intended for WR Ryan Whalen down the left sideline on a third-and-17 from the Bengals 47-yard line. The pass was headed out of bounds, but Victorian tipped the ball back into the field of play, where Allen intercepted at the Pittsburgh 24-yard line.
- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis made a curious decision, a potentially outcome-determining decision, when he elected to have Josh Brown – a fill-in for regular kicker Mike Nugent who was inactive due to injury – attempt a 56-yard field goal with 3:22 remaining in the fourth quarter of a 10-10 game. The kick was short, and the Steelers took possession at their 46-yard line.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* The Bengals won the toss and elected to defer, which put the Steelers offense on the field first. It started with a 13-yard run by Jonathan Dwyer on the first play, but the Steelers stalled after they failed to covert their initial third down situation of the game – a third-and-7 – when Geno Adkins beat David DeCastro and sacked Ben Roethlisberger for a 7-yard loss.
- It'll get better once the regular officials get back. On Cincinnati's opening offensive possession, a sack of Andy Dalton by Lawrence Timmons set up a third-and-long, and then on the next play it was Brett Keisel who dumped Dalton, who couldn't find any receivers open. When Keisel did his typical shoot-an-arrow sack celebration, referee Mike Carey penalized him 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct "for going to the ground." It was the same sack celebration Keisel has done for years but the first time he ever has been penalized for it.
- The Steelers converted none of their first three third-down situations, and the last of those failures turned into disaster when Leon Hall stepped in front of Heath Miller and returned the interception 17 yards for the touchdown that gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead in the final two minutes of the first quarter.
- There were some positives to take from the Steelers' fourth possession, what with a running into the punter penalty setting up a fourth-and-1 that Isaac Redman converted only after a second and then a third effort, and then with Rashard Mendenhall ripping off his longest run of the season – a 20-yarder that gave the Steelers a first down at the Bengals 15-yard line. But for all of the things done correctly, the Steelers ended up with nothing when a bad snap from Greg Warren was the start of a sequence that ended with Shaun Suisham missing a 24-yard field goal.
- Cortez Allen intercepted a pass intended for Andrew Hawkins on the first play of the second half, and the Steelers looked to be in good shape to tie the game at least. But on a third-and-7 from the Cincinnati 29-yard line, Geno Atkins drove Ramon Foster back into Ben Roethlisberger, who ultimately was sacked out of field goal range. Drew Butler then punted into the end zone for a touchback.
- About 90 seconds of game time after Josh Brown was short on a 56-yard field goal attempt, Shaun Suisham was short on an attempt from 52 yards. The Bengals took over at their own 43-yard line with 1:47 to play.
- Even though the Bengals had such good field position after Suisham's miss, the Steelers defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back to the offense with 44 seconds left in a game still tied, 10-10. On the third play, Ben Roethlisberger's pass for Mike Wallace was intercepted by Reggie Nelson, and the Bengals began the possession that would end with the game-winning field goal at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line.