A look at Steelers 24, Bengals 20 via the magic of the DVR:
RUN REVERSAL:** The Bengals had periodic success running against the Steelers' nickel defense in the first half and early in the second but it didn't last.
"We tackled better," head coach Mike Tomlin said of the defensive turnaround.
The Steelers also got to ball-carriers faster.
Some initial examples:
First-and-10, Bengals' 36-yard line, first quarter _ Running back Jeremy Hill followed wide receiver Brandon LaFell's block on Steelers cornerback William Gay and wasn't contacted until the 40, where linebacker Ryan Shazier and free safety Mike Mitchell were unable to bring Hill down. He was finally caught from behind by linebacker William Gay at the 48. Gain of 12.
First-and-10, Bengals' 48, first quarter: Hill reached the Steelers' 48 before he was engaged by a defender and fell forward for 3 more yards. Gain of 7.
First-and-10, Bengals' 10, third quarter: Hill made it 3 yards past the line of scrimmage before he ran into strong safety Sean Davis and linebacker Bud Dupree . Gain of 4.
Second-and-6, Bengals' 14, third quarter: Running back Rex Burkhead went up the middle and all the way to the 21 before linebacker Ryan Shazier and Mitchell got him on the ground. Gain of 9.
And that, as it turned out, was about it for a Bengals' running game that had produced 81 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries to that juncture.
Game action from Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals' next five carries lost 5 yards, including four against the nickel that lost 7 yards.
The change in the way the Steelers played run defense from the nickel was as dramatic as it was impactful:
First-and-10, Bengals' 37, third quarter _ The Bengals got a hat on defensive linemen L.T. Walton and Javon Hargrave, linebackers Timmons, Dupree and Shazier and cornerbacks Artie Burns and Gay. But Harrison was unblocked and he met Hill 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage and dropped him there. Loss of 3.
Second-and-2, Bengals' 38, third quarter _ Timmons beat guard Clint Boiling to the gap and stood Hill up short of the first down. Gain of 1.
Second-and-10, Bengals' 25, fourth quarter _ Shazier ran past guard Kevin Zeitler's attempted block on what started out as a run left and then cut off Hill's cutback to the right. Loss of 1.
First-and-10, Bengals' 39, fourth quarter _ Penetration by Walton on right tackle Jake Fisher clogged up a sweep to the right behind pulling guards Boiling and Zeitler. Hill reversed his field and stepped out of Walton's attempted tackle but Dupree cleaned up after shedding tight end Tyler Eifert. Loss of 4.
Playing on the other team's side of the line of scrimmage has its advantages.
PAUSE FOR THE CAUSE:** Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had regretted, in retrospect, an interception he'd thrown on Dec. 11 at Buffalo on a play that was rushed because the Steelers had experienced some issues getting the right personnel on the field and some confusion at the line of scrimmage and were in danger of the play clock expiring prior to the snap.
"I should have just called timeout," Roethlisberger said then.
On second-and-16 from the Bengals' 24 midway through the fourth quarter, similar circumstances arose. Tight end Ladarius Green and wide receiver Landry Jones initially broke right from the huddle before Roethlisberger directed them to the left side of the formation, and the Steelers appeared out of sorts.
With three seconds left on the play clock, Roethlisberger signaled for a timeout just before Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball.
When play resumed, wide receiver Sammie Coates had replaced Hamilton and wide receiver Eli Rogers was lined up in the right slot, opposite nickel cornerback Josh Shaw, rather than wide right, opposite starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, as Rogers had been in the previous formation prior to the time out.
This time, Roethlisberger accepted Pouncey's snap and hit Rogers for the 24-yard score that would stand as the game-winning touchdown.
SUPPORT STAFF:** Kicker Chris Boswell tied a franchise record with six field goals, a mark that likewise reflected on the jobs done by long-snapper Greg Warren and punter/holder Jordan Berry. Also deserving of credit are the blockers lined up on either side of Warren, tight end Xavier Grimble, defensive lineman Vince Williams, offensive lineman Chris Hubbard and guard David DeCastro on Warren's left, and guard Ramon Foster, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva and tight end Jesse James on the right.
HE SAID IT: "Good poise by Le'Veon Bell not retaliating … probably too tired to retaliate." _ CBS analyst Dan Fouts on Bell's response to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Bengals defensive tackle Pat Simms on what became the Steelers' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.