STEELERS 24, BENGALS 17
Steelers' record: 7-3
One year ago: 7-3
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 50-32
This is what Coach Mike Tomlin identified as the critical elements heading into this game vs. the Bengals: "We have to be better offensively in the red zone. Last week we were 1-for-4 in the red zone, and that's not going to help you beat good teams. Defensively, we have to right the ship in terms of what we do on third down and get off the field in those situations. Last year, the special teams contributed a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff and blocked a punt in the game in Cincinnati, and we expect similar contributions from that unit."
It seemed as though the game might turn into a rout, especially after the Steelers took a 14-0 lead with touchdowns on their first two offensive possessions. But the third time the Bengals got the ball, rookie QB Andy Dalton converted a third-and-5 with a 25-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins. Four plays later, Dalton hit A.J. Green with a 36-yard touchdown pass and the game was closely contested the rest of the way.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
In five of the last six games, the Steelers have scored a touchdown on their opening possession of the game.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The Steelers had things going their way early. James Farrior correctly called the coin toss – tails – and by deferring the Steelers ended up getting the wind at their back for the first quarter. Shaun Suisham's kickoff went for a touchback, the defense pitched a three-and-out, and then the offense drove 54 yards on eight plays for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The scoring play came when Ben Roethlisberger converted a third-and-10 with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
- The way Roethlisberger was playing, even on the rare occasion when he missed one he came right back and made the play on the next one. After missing a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery on first down from the Bengals 20-yard line, Roethlisberger came back on third down to fire a strike to Heath Miller that gained 18 down to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Rashard Mendenhall scored to give the Steelers a 14-0 lead.
- On a play from the 13-yard line, Roethlisberger's pass deep down the left sideline to Antonio Brown could have been intercepted by either Leon Hall or Reggie Nelson, but each of the two Bengals DBs ended up preventing the other from making the play.
- It was a third-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 39-yard line with 3:22 left in the first half, Mewelde Moore came from one side of the formation to the other to pick up a blitzer to allow Roethlisberger to convert with a 15-yard pass to Brown. The drive ended with a 39-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham that gave the Steelers a 17-10 halftime lead.
- Up to the moment of a first-and-goal from the Bengals 9-yard line, in a tie game late in the third quarter, Rashard Mendenhall had 33 yards on 12 carries. On his 13th carry, Mendenhall broke one tackle by Domata Peko and ran through another by Rey Maualuga to score the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 24-17 lead after three quarters.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* On a first-and-10 from the Bengals 20-yard line on the Steelers second possession, LT Max Starks pushed DE Michael Johnson beyond Ben Roethlisberger, who then was able to step up into the pocket. But Roethlisberger missed a wide open Jerricho Cotchery for what would have been a second touchdown.
- Trailing, 14-0, the Bengals put together a quick and seemingly easy drive for a touchdown. They went 79 yards in seven plays, with Andy Dalton converting a third-and-5 with a 25-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins, and then on second-and-8 he hit A.J. Green with a 36-yard touchdown pass. On the play, it seemed as though Troy Polamalu couldn't find the football.
- After making a great catch to set up the Steelers' second touchdown, a bobble by Heath Miller allowed CB Leon Hall to come up with an interception that gave the Bengals possession at the Steelers 41-yard line. Miller was wide open in the flat, and Roethlisberger delivered the ball on the numbers, but he couldn't catch it cleanly and Hall grabbed the ball before it hit the turf. The possession ended with a 43-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, and the Steelers lead was cut to 14-10.
- On the play after the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger stepped up and found Cotchery wide open for an apparent touchdown, but the play was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty called on Heath Miller.
- The Steelers offense had some success throughout the first half operating out of an empty-set formation, but on the plays the worked the ball was coming out quick. When it did not, there were protection issues, evidenced by the fact Roethlisberger was sacked three times for 19 yards in losses on the final possession of the first half.
- After a 7-yard completion to Andre Caldwell that would have resulted in a third-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Lawrence Timmons was flagged for a personal foul/late hit penalty that gave the Bengals a fresh set of downs from the 1-yard line. Cincinnati scored the tying touchdown two plays later on a pass to TE Jermaine Gresham.
- On third-and-12 from the Pittsburgh 8-yard line with 12-plus minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger had Mike Wallace running free down the middle of the field, behind the Bengals' secondary. But he overthrew him. Later in the game, Roethlisberger hit Wallace perfectly with a pass that would have converted a third down, but he dropped it.
The list of players the Steelers made inactive for the game against the Bengals was significant mostly for the names that were not on it.
LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), Emmanuel Sanders (knee) and Arnaz Battle (hamstring) were the players who did not participate because of injury, but the Steelers also had a number of players back who had missed the previous game because of health issues.
Back for the Steelers were James Farrior and Doug Legursky, and guys who had missed some practice during the week such as James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Jerricho Cotchery and Stevenson Sylvester all started or played. Also, Hines Ward was able to practice all week and play vs. the Bengals the week after leaving the game vs. the Ravens with concussion-like symptoms.