STEELERS 18, BENGALS 16**
Steelers' record: 11-6
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 58-35
Steelers' all-time postseason record: 34-22
Coach Mike Tomlin had been hammering home the same message for months, and he talked about it again on the day before the Steelers boarded an airplane for the trip to Cincinnati and a Wild Card Round game against the Bengals.
"Big-time for us, it's about the turnover margin," said Tomlin. "When we take care of the ball and we get the ball, we're tough to beat. We're going to keep it simple. That's going to be the central element of the game for us. We're going to safeguard the ball on offense, and if we do we'll score points. We need to get the ball on defense. If we do, we're creating the type of environment that leans in our favor. Those things need to happen for us."
Proving the point about turnovers required nothing more than a quick review of the two previous Steelers-Bengals games in 2015. On Nov. 1 at Heinz Field, the Steelers lost Le'Veon Bell to a knee injury in the second quarter, but the defense sacked Andy Dalton three times and intercepted him twice, which helped keep the Steelers within striking distance. But Ben Roethlisberger, in his first game back in a month following a sprained knee, threw three interceptions in the second half, and the Steelers lost 16-10.
On Dec. 13, at Paul Brown Stadium, Roethlisberger threw only one interception during a game in which Will Gay turned in a pick-six, a game in which the Steelers were plus-2 in turnover ratio with one of their takeaways being a red zone interception of a shovel pass by Stephon Tuitt. The Steelers won, 33-20.
Game action from the Steelers' AFC Wild Card game against the Bengals.
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT**
The Steelers again held the Bengals under 100 yards rushing, and that set up enough third-down situations the Cincinnati ended up converting just 5-of-15 (33 percent), and the defense was able to come up with four takeaways to allow the team to finish plus-2 in turnover ratio. And half of the Steelers' 18 points came off the Bengals' turnovers – three field goals by Chris Boswell.
TURNING POINT I
The Steelers pretty much had been left for dead. Only 96 seconds remained in a game they were losing, 16-15, and the Bengals had the ball with a first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 26-yard line after Vontaze Burfict had intercepted a Landry Jones pass. The Bengals were trying to do little except drain those 96 seconds, and so the ball was handed to RB Jeremy Hill on first down. Hill gained 6 yards before having the ball stripped by Ryan Shazier and Ryan Shazier. When Stephon Tuitt recovered for the Steelers at the Pittsburgh 9-yard line, there was hope.
TURNING POINT II
Hope turned into a dramatic victory thanks to what happened on first-and-10 from the Bengals 41-yard line. On an incomplete pass to Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict was flagged for a personal foul for a head-shot to Brown. And then before play resumed, Adam Jones was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The 30 yards in penalties moved the ball to the Bengals 17-yard line. On the next play, Chris Boswell nailed a 35-yard field goal, and the Steelers held an 18-16 lead with 14 seconds left to play.