STEELERS 23, BENGALS 7
Steelers' record: 10-3
One year ago: 6-7
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 49-32
One calendar year ago, or more accurately, one NFL calendar year ago, the Steelers tiptoed through the most damaging loss of a disappointing season. It was a Thursday night in Cleveland, a game played in bitterly cold conditions, and the Steelers lost to a 1-11 Browns team that looked to be playing to get its coach fired. This game is against a 2-10 Bengals team, but the difference this year is in the Steelers.
It was still just 13-7, a situation where the Steelers again were in a battle where one touchdown by an opponent with a losing record could decide the outcome of a game they were supposed to win. After another possession that netted no points, the Steelers punted and the Bengals took over at their 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. LaMarr Woodley intercepted a Carson Palmer pass and returned it 14 yards for the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 20-7 lead, and finally some breathing room.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Troy Polamalu's interception return for a touchdown was the second of his career in the regular season. The first came on Oct. 3, 2004, and it also was against Carson Palmer and the Bengals at Heinz Field. It went for 26 yards to clinch a 28-17 Steelers win.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The Bengals already had a 7-0 lead, and a 24-yard dump pass to Cedric Benson put the ball at the Steelers 27-yard line with at least a 10-0 deficit appearing imminent. But LaMarr Woodley sacked Carson Palmer on the next play, Lawrence Timmons dumped Benson for a loss on second down, and Ryan Clark broke up a pass for Jordan Shipley on third down. The Bengals punted.
- Palmer had a lot of success going to Owens in the first meeting between these teams, and Troy Polamalu is someone who studies opponents' tendencies. On a second-and-8, Palmer tried to get the ball to Owens, but Polamalu cut in front, intercepted the ball and returned it 45 yards for the tying touchdown with 4:37 left in the first half.
- Relegated to the role of a backup receiver even in the sub-packages, Antwaan Randle El moved up in the pecking order late in the first half after Emmanuel Sanders hopped off the field with a minor leg injury. Randle El went high in the air to bring down a Roethlisberger pass for 22 yards to the Bengals 18-yard line on a late second quarter possession that ended with a field goal and a 10-7 halftime lead.
- On a first and 10-from the Bengals 10-yard line, Palmer looked for the quick out pattern to Chad Ochocinco, but LaMarr Woodley dropped into the flat and intercepted the pass. His 14-yard return for a touchdown gave the Steelers a 20-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* On a third-and-3 on the Bengals' opening possession, the result of the play was an incomplete pass to Terrell Owens, who also took a big hit from Ryan Clark. But LaMarr Woodley jumped offside to give the Bengals a first down. Then aided by a second penalty – a pass interference call on Ike Taylor in the end zone – the Bengals completed the drive with a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
- It was a second-and-10 close to midfield, and the Steelers had two chances to snuff out a play that turned into a big gain for the Bengals. First, Carson Palmer stepped up and avoided a rush from Woodley before dumping the ball to Cedric Benson. William Gay missed a tackle at the 50-yard line, and Benson turned it into a 24-yard gain to the Steelers 27-yard line.
- On the kickoff following Polamalu's tying touchdown, Shaun Suisham kicked the ball out of bounds, which gave the Bengals possession at the 40-yard line.
- A 13-yard run by Ben Roethlisberger moved the ball to the Bengals 5-yard line late in the first half with a running clock in which the Steelers had one timeout left. Instead of using the timeout, Roethlisberger spiked the ball. Two incomplete passes later, the Steelers were out of downs, but they still had that timeout and there were 24 seconds left in the half.
- In the third quarter and into the fourth, the Steelers had a 15-play drive that gained a total of 80 yards and ate up 9:21 of the game clock. But because of three holding penalties on the Steelers, the drive netted only 50 yards and also no points.
- In the past four games, the Steelers have been penalized 14 times vs. Oakland, 10 times vs. Buffalo, nine times vs. Baltimore and nine times vs. Cincinnati for a total of 42 penalties. Against the Bengals, six of those nine penalties were for holding, either on offense or special teams.