By Teresa Varley
The Steelers weren't able to get in the end zone and it cost them, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 18-12 at Heinz Field. The win puts the Bengals in first place in the AFC North with a 7-2 record, while the Steelers fall to 6-3.
The Steelers were three for 15 on third down, and on four trips inside the red zone had to settle for a field goal each time. Rashard Mendenhall had only 13 carries for 36 yards and Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 passes for 174 yards, with one interception.
"We were below the line, that's not winning football on a lot of fronts, specifically when you're playing a quality team as the Bengals are," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "When you kick field goals, you potentially expose yourself to losses. We weren't able to execute in the red zone today offensively."
The Steelers defense gave a strong effort, holding the Bengals to four field goals. But another kick return for a touchdown proved costly.
"Anytime you allow people to score touchdowns and your defense is not on the field, you expose yourself to losing football," said Tomlin. "We've got some work to do, we're a team that's developing. It's a step back today. I trust that this group will respond appropriately, I know that we're going to move forward when we get back in tomorrow with that in mind, but today, job not done."
The Bengals moved the ball on their first drive, but came up empty thanks to strong defensive play. Carson Palmer's first completion came on third-and-10 when he hit Chad Ochocinco for 16 yards. Palmer kept it in the air with a four-yard completion to J.P. Foschi and eight-yard toss to Andre Caldwell. Cedric Benson was halted by James Farrior and Ike Taylor after just a one-yard gain, but on third down Palmer hit Laveranues Coles on the sideline for 12 yards. The defense shut the door after that, with Troy Polamalu knocking Benson for a three-yard loss and on third down Taylor broke-up a pass to Ochocinco. The Bengals weren't able to manage any points on the drive when Shayne Graham's 51-yard field goal attempt hit the upright.
Roethlisberger got things clicking for the Steelers with an 11-yard completion to Santonio Holmes. Mewelde Moore added a 12-yard gain off left tackle to the Bengals 27-yard line. Roethlisberger got knocked for a loss on a five-yard sack, but got it right back when he took off running, scrambling up the middle for a 15-yard gain. Mendenhall went off guard for two yards, and Heath Miller added three yards on a shovel pass from Roethlisberger. On third down Roethlisberger's pass to Holmes was batted down by Chinedum Ndukwe. Jeff Reed was able to get them on the board with a 28-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
It wasn't a lead that would last long. Reed's kickoff was fielded by Bernard Scott at the four-yard line and taken back 96 yards for a touchdown, and a 6-3 lead after the conversion failed following a bad snap.
The offense couldn't move the chains on the ensuing drive after Roethlisberger was sacked for a five-yard loss and his completion to Holmes came up two-yards short of the first down after the Bengals challenged the spot of the ball.
Benson was able to rattle off a few runs, first for nine yards and then adding six yards. Palmer went to Caldwell on consecutive passes, before hitting Coles for 25 yards to the Steelers 32-yard line. But Scott was hit four a four-yard loss and on third-and-14 Brett Keisel brought pressure, forcing an incomplete pass to Caldwell and a punt.
Roethlisberger came out firing with 11-yard completions to Miller and Holmes, but wasn't able to go much further and had to punt. In a defensive battle, the Steelers forced the Bengals to go three-and-out, putting the ball back in the hands of the black and gold.
Mendenhall burst for a 10-yard gain and Roethlisberger avoided the pressure, went across the field and hit the outstretched arms of Holmes for a 21-yard gain. Holmes added a 10-yard reception, battling his way down to the Bengals five-yard line. A three-yard loss by Mendenhall and seven-yard sack pushed the Steelers back, and instead of taking the lead had to settle for a 6-6 tie on Reed's 33-yard field goal.
Another strong stand by the defense, highlighted by James Harrison sacking Palmer for a 10-yard loss, gave the Steelers a final shot at the end zone in the first half.
Moore gained nine yards off left end and added three on a short reception. The Steelers benefitted from a 46-yard pass interference call against Ndukwe, giving them the ball at the Bengals 30-yard line. Moore and Ward both pulled in 11-yard receptions to the eight-yard line, but they again weren't able to take advantage of the field position. Roethlisberger was sacked for a nine-yard loss and two incomplete passes brought on Reed for his third field goal of the game, giving the Steelers a 9-6 halftime lead.
The defensive battle continued to start the second half. Roethlisberger's pass intended for Ward was tipped by Morgan Trent and intercepted by Frostee Rucker, who returned it 26 yards to the 14-yard line. The Steelers defense rose to the occasion, stopping Scott for no gain and allowing just a three-yard run. On third down Palmer hit Foschi, who was stopped one yard short of the first down, bringing on Graham for a 23-yard field goal to tie the game at 9-9.
The Steelers went three-and-out on their next series, giving the ball right back to the Bengals. Palmer hit Ochocinco for 13 yards and escaped pressure to find Scott for 21 yards to the Steelers' 18-yard line. Foschi picked up four yards, but Keisel batted down Palmer's pass, bringing Graham back on for a 32-yard field goal to take a 12-9 lead.
Defense continued to be the name of the game for both sides, and with the Bengals pinned back at their own seven-yard line, there was nowhere for them to go. After two short gains, LaMarr Woodley sacked Palmer for an 11-yard loss, forcing a punt.
The battle of field position worked in the Steelers favor, taking over at midfield. Wallace pulled in a 16-yard reception and Miller battled for a nine-yard catch. Mendenhall took it off left tackle to the 21-yard line and Ward fought for an eight-yard gain to the 13-yard line. Mendenhall got no gain on third down, but on fourth down Roethlisberger took it up the middle for a yard to move the chains. A holding call backed the Steelers up to the 21-yard line, getting five back on a carry by Mendenhall. Roethlisberger's pass, intended for Ward, was batted down by Jonathan Fanene at the line and on third down he wasn't able to hit Wallace in the corner of the end zone. Reed tied the game at 12-12 with a 34-yard field goal.
The back and forth battle continued as the Bengals drove inside the red zone, where their drive stalled at the 15-yard line. It was Graham again, this time hitting a 32-yard field goal to retake the lead, 15-12.
The Bengals forced the Steelers to go three-and-out, taking over at their own 21-yard line after the punt. Scott went off left end for nine yards and Brian Leonard added a two-yard gain for the first down. Leonard added another two-yard run, but a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on Harrison gave the Bengals the ball at the Bengals 49-yard line. Leonard took it up the middle for three yards and Palmer hit Coles for another eight yards to keep the chains moving. Scott went off left guard for five yards, and broke to the outside for another five yards. Scott was knocked for a one-yard loss, and Palmer scrambled for three yards, setting up a key third down. Scott was stopped by Nick Eason for a two-yard loss and Graham got the call, hitting a 43-yard field goal to extend the lead to 18-12.
Safety Troy Polamalu left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn't return.
"He's getting an MRI on his left knee," said Tomlin. "The same knee he injured earlier in the year. I assume that I'll have more information at a later date or time. Right now, all I can tell you is that he's in the process of getting and MRI."