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Steelers pull out big AFC North win

It took a full 60 minutes. It took contributions all around. And it took some heroics.

And in the end, it all came together as the Steelers pulled out a 28-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in an AFC North battle. The win sends the Steelers into their bye week with a 3-2-1 record.

Ben Roethlisberger did what he does best, taking the Steelers on a last-minute drive to win the game. Taking over at their own 23-yard line with 1:12 to go, and down, 21-20, Roethlisberger first hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for eight yards. He went back to Smith-Schuster for 10 yards, and then connected with him over the middle for 23 yards. With just 15 seconds to play, Roethlisberger went deep to Brown, who pulled it in and never slowed down, aided by a block by Justin Hunter and taking it in for a 31-yard game-winning touchdown. The Steelers added a two-point conversion, when Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster, for the 28-21 win.

“It’s AFC North football,” said Roethlisberger. “It’s just a lot of fun to win here.”

Smith-Schuster finished with seven receptions for 111 yards, while Brown had five receptions for 105 yards and the game-winning touchdown. James Conner, the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, carried the ball 19 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger completed 32 of 46 passes for 369 yards and a quarterback rating of 100.7. And the offensive line was stellar protecting Roethlisberger and opening holes.

Vince Williams returned from his hamstring injury to lead the team with seven tackles and a sack, while Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave also each had a sack. The defense held the Bengals to just 62 yards rushing, while only allowing 229 yards in the air.

“That’s big time, AFC North football,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “We’re humbled to be a part of this series. We respect it. We realize it’s good for the game of football. You just saw why it’s good for the game of football. It’s two teams completing their tails off for 60 minutes and fighting for a lot of things.

“Keep it real simple today, there was victory. We were able to get it done. I am appreciative of a lot of efforts in all three phases. We made some plays. We missed some plays. That’s life. It’s good to learn while you win. Hopefully we are finding our rhythm. Hopefully that is a signature of our game moving forward, that we can learn while we win. I am appreciative of it today.”

The Steelers opened the game with the ball in their hands, and Vance McDonald immediately made an impact. McDonald had three catches for 30 yards on the opening drive, but that would be about all that would come of it. Smith-Schuster couldn’t pull in a long pass, and the Steelers drive ended with a punt. Jordan Berry had the Bengals deep at their own 12-yard line, but a holding call gave them the ball at the 22-yard line.

The defense shut down the Bengals on their opening drive, but special teams cost them yards again. Ryan Switzer didn’t field Kevin Huber’s punt, allowing it to bounce and go for 62 yards to the Steelers 16-yard line.

After a three-and-out by the Steelers offense, the Bengals were gifted with good field position when Berry’s punt went just 36 yards. They took advantage of taking over at their own 46-yard line. Andy Dalton went deep to A.J. Green for 19 yards, and hit Tyler Boyd for a two-yard touchdown, putting them up, 7-0, in the first quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going to be outdone, quickly answering. Conner carried the ball five times for 42 yards on the drive, including a 26-yard scamper thanks to a block by Maurkice Pouncey. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster for 21 yards, and Conner capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game, 7-7.

After the ball changed hands several times, the Steelers took over with 5:25 to play in the half. McDonald was once again a monster, carrying defenders on his back for a 26-yard reception, and then added an 11-yard reception. Smith-Schuster made a highlight reel catch, fighting Darqueze Dennard for the ball on a 29-yard grab where he was ruled down at the one-yard line. Conner took it from there, giving the Steelers the first lead of the game, 14-7, with a one-yard touchdown run.

It wasn’t a lead that would last long. Alex Erickson returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards, and Dalton capped a five-play, 44-yard drive, that took just 48 seconds, with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Boyd to tie the game, 14-14, going into halftime.

Erickson gave the Bengals excellent field position to start the second half, returning the opening kickoff 51 yards to the Steelers 49-yard line. The defense wouldn’t have any parts of letting them benefit this time, forcing a three-and-out.

The Steelers came oh so close to going up by a touchdown on their ensuing drive. Xavier Grimble grabbed a 22-yard reception, and Brown caught a 13-yarder, going out of the game for a few plays after taking a blow to the head on the play. Conner took it for 11 yards, then broke loose for a 25-yard gain, coming up just inches shy of the goal line. The Steelers couldn’t punch it in from the one-yard line, instead settling for a 21-yard Chris Boswell field goal, taking the lead again, 17-14.

The defense held their own again, forcing a three-and-out. Conner came out punishing defenders for a 16-yard gain. Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for 13 yards. But from there things stalled and the Steelers were forced to punt.

On the final play of the third quarter Dalton hit Boyd in stride for 39 yards, but a holding call negated the play, giving the Bengals a first-and-20 from their own 10-yard line. The Bengals moved the ball to the Steelers 38-yard line, where Tuitt came up huge sacking Dalton for a seven-yard loss, basically closing the door on the drive.

The Steelers got the ball back with 9:19 on the clock. Roethlisberger took them on a 10-play, 82-yard drive, that ate up 5:47 and resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Boswell, extending the lead, 20-14.

The Bengals came back. Dalton engineered a nine-play, 75-yard drive, that culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon, putting them on top, 21-20, with just 1:18 to play.  

The Steelers were far from done. Roethlisberger took them on a game-winning drive, hitting Brown for a 31-yard touchdown to secure the 28-21 victory.

First Quarter: Steelers 0, Bengals 7
Scoring Play: Andy Dalton two-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd.
Scoring Summary: 11-54-4:24

Second Quarter: Steelers 7, Bengals 7
Scoring Play: James Conner one-yard touchdown run.
Scoring Summary: 10-75-5:03

Second Quarter: Steelers 14, Bengals 7
Scoring Play: James Conner one-yard touchdown run.
Scoring Summary: 8-75-4:18

Second Quarter: Steelers 14, Bengals 14
Scoring Play: Andy Dalton 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd.
Scoring Summary: 5-44-0:48
Third Quarter: Steelers 17, Bengals 14
Scoring Play: Chris Boswell 21-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 12-85-6:21

Fourth Quarter: Steelers 20, Bengals 14
Scoring Play: Chris Boswell 24-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 10-82-5:47

Fourth Quarter: Steelers 20, Bengals 21
Scoring Play: Joe Mixon four-yard touchdown run.
Scoring Summary: 9-75-2:14

Fourth Quarter: Steelers 28, Bengals 21
Scoring Play: Ben Roethlisberger 31-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster two-point conversion.
Scoring Summary: 7-77-1:08

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