STEELERS 30, BENGALS 20
Steelers' record: 6-8
One year ago: 7-7
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 54-33
This is uncharted territory for these Steelers. The experience of having to play multiple regular season games knowing that there is essentially no hope of making the playoffs is a new one for most of these players. How would they respond to the situation? "I think they're playing specifically to win this game. That's been our mentality throughout this year. When you start 0-4 in the manner in which we did, what's ahead of you and the manner in which you need to approach it is evident to everyone. Since that time we have been singularly focused to the task at hand, and I don't expect that to change now."
TOMLIN'S PREDICTION COMES TRUE IN A BIG WAY
Two days before the game, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the possible significance of the kicking game.
"They do a great job of applying pressure with their punt return unit, and they also do a great job of applying pressure with their kickoff coverage unit," said Tomlin. "We have to be prepared to deal with those guys. We need to be prepared to make some plays of our own. We did the last time, and I thought it gave us a chance early in the game. We had a nice kickoff return early by Felix Jones, and we had a big punt return by Antonio Brown that produced a score for us. There's no question that special teams are going to be big in this game."
As it turned out, special teams were big at the start of the game and shaped what happened after as a result.
It started when Bengals punter Kevin Huber dropped the snap and was tackled by Will Allen at the 1-yard line to set up an easy touchdown for Le'Veon Bell and a 7-0 Steelers lead. Then it was Cedric Peerman having his 37-yard kickoff return nullified because he was ruled to have signaled for a fair catch. Then it was a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown that upped the Steelers lead to 21-0. Then it was a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham into the open end of Heinz Field on a night when the wind was gusting and unpredictable.
The Bengals were reeling when the Steelers got an easy touchdown when punter Kevin Huber dropped a snap and was tackled at the 1-yard line and then Ben Roethlisberger threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown for a 14-0 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter. But the dagger came after an ensuing three-and-out by the Bengals offense when Brown returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. The 21 points in the first quarter were the most for the Steelers in an opening 15 minutes since they also scored 21 on Oct. 31, 2004 in a win over the New England Patriots.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT I
The announced temperature at kickoff was 26-degrees with winds out of the west at between 15-17 miles per hour. Those were the numbers, but the anecdotal evidence was this: After being placed at the 20-yard line for the first play of the game, the football blew away and had to be retrieved by the umpire.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
Ben Roethlisberger came into the game having thrown 189 straight passes without an interception, and he completed his first 12 attempts of the game for 112 yards and a touchdown. The streak got up to 207 pass attempts without an interception before Adam Jones wrestled the ball away from Emmanuel Sanders at the Cincinnati 2-yard line.