In his first shot at the Steelers, Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton engineered a spirited comeback from a two-touchdown deficit but couldn't quite finish the job.
In his second go-around against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Dalton wasn't able to finish the game. Not finish the game as in finish the game with a win, but finish the game as in not getting pulled by the head coach.
Theories differed in the Steelers' locker room as to why Dalton struggled on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field relative to his performance back on Nov. 13 in Cincinnati. But Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis had seen enough of Dalton, whatever the cause of his struggles, by the 12:47 mark of the fourth quarter of what ended up as a 35-7 Steelers' triumph.
"It was the same," linebacker James Farrior said of the defensive game plan. "It wasn't too much different. I think where we did a good job was in getting pressure up the middle. Our front guys collapsed the pocket pretty much every time they got back to throw the ball, and that forced him out of the pocket.
"We lost contain a couple of times, but overall I think that was the key."
Troy Polamalu offered a different perspective.
"We threw some different packages at him today, which really helped us out a lot," he said. "And when you get the pass rush like we got today, the secondary just kind of sits and waits for plays to come. And when they don't come it's because we got sacks."
This much was obvious – something was working.
Dalton completed 15 of 30 attempts for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and wasn't sacked on Nov. 13 in the Steelers' 24-17 win at Paul Brown Stadium. In the rematch he hit on 11 of 24 throws for 135 yards with one touchdown and wasn't intercepted but was sacked three times.
Although Dalton's passer rating was actually better in the second game (77.6-61.8) the overall results were appreciably worse.
It was the same dynamic that most recently played out a season ago against Cleveland then-rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
McCoy completed fewer passes (20-23) in more attempts (41-33) and threw more interceptions (3-2) in his second shot at the Pittsburgh defense in 2010, and his second go-around vs. the Steelers came in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Dalton's first attempt on Sunday at Heinz Field went for 43 yards to rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. After that it was mostly a long afternoon on the way to an early shower for Dalton, who was eventually replaced by Bruce Gradkowski in the fourth quarter.
"We were more comfortable with what we thought they were going to do," said linebacker James Harrison, who collected all three of the Steelers' sacks of Dalton. "It threw off their game plan a little bit, I think, when we got up by so many points."
There was one other factor, Polamalu maintained.
That was the Steelers' ability to sprint to a 14-0 lead and this time build upon it. That hadn't been the case in Cincinnati.
"Our offense played well," Polamalu said. "That made it much easier for us on defense."