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Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Bengals exert AFC North dominance, place Steelers in playoff jeopardy

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
  •  

PITTSBURGH -- Forget about the folly of a franchise long known as the Bungles. The Cincinnati Bengals proved to the Pittsburgh Steelers they're the best team in the AFC North right now and, most of all, they proved it to themselves.

The Bengals went into Pittsburgh on Sunday, stood up to the team they rarely beat and all but secured their first division championship in 15 years, riding Carson Palmer's three touchdown passes and a defense that forced four more turnovers in an all-important 38-31 victory over the Steelers.

Rudi Johnson ran for Cincinnati's final two scores, one after a 94-yard Tab Perry kickoff return and the other following Ben Roethlisberger's third and most costly interception.

With four games to play, the Bengals (9-3) seized a two-game lead in the AFC North.

Believe it, Cincinnati: The Bengals are assured of their first winning record since 1990 and are closing in on their first playoff appearance since the days of the Ickey Shuffle and Wicky Wacky Sam Wyche.

"It's a game we had to win to control the division," Palmer said. "You can say all you want about how we had to beat Pittsburgh; we just needed to win this game."

Fittingly, Steelers receiver Hines Ward imitated Ickey Woods' old touchdown dance after scoring, only he didn't know his Chad Johnson-like highstepping would come in the Bengals' biggest win in years.

"None of us have been in this situation before," Palmer said. "Someone said since it's been since 1990, but in no way are we set. We have a chance to be 13-3 and that's what we're working toward."

The Steelers (7-5) got a gutty effort from Roethlisberger (29-of-41, 386 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions) despite a possible fractured right thumb, but dropped their third in a row and are in danger of not making the playoffs a year after going 15-1.

That's how pivotal this game was -- if the Steelers had won, they would have effectively been in the division lead by virtue of tiebreakers. Now, they face an uphill climb to get a wild-card berth.

The Steelers were 20-7 against the Bengals under coach Bill Cowher, including a 27-13 rout in Cincinnati on Oct. 23.

"But they're not the Bengals of old," Steelers guard Alan Faneca said. "Since Marvin Lewis came in, they've been a different team. They're starting to become a lot better."

Even on a day the Bengals had much going against them -- the crowd, the cold weather, their own history and an inspired game by a badly injured Roethlisberger -- they responded.

"It used to be Pittsburgh's time," said Chad Johnson, who wore a Steelers Terrible Towel afterward despite a relatively quiet and dance-less day of five catches for 54 yards. "Now it's Cincinnati's time."

Roethlisberger had his biggest passing day in the NFL despite a black-and-blue thumb that was encased in a splint and covered by a glove, but the Bengals came back every time Pittsburgh scored.

The Steelers led 7-0 and 14-7 and also tied it at 24 after trailing 24-17, but the Bengals repeatedly answered, twice scoring touchdowns within four plays of getting the ball back.

Palmer, who felt an urgency to beat the Steelers after losing his first three starts to them, threw scoring passes of 43 and 6 yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and 1 yard to Reggie Kelly.

Turnovers, as usual, played a big role for the Bengals, who have a remarkable plus-24 turnover margin, with 37 takeaways and 13 turnovers.

The biggest turnover may have come with the Steelers trying to drive for what would have been a tying score in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Odell Thurman stepped in front of a pass intended for Ward and returned it to the Steelers 49, and Rudi Johnson scored six plays later from the 14 to make it 38-24. Johnson ran for 98 yards and has 1,066 for the season.

Roethlisberger, who returned for Monday's 26-7 loss in Indianapolis after missing three games following knee surgery, threw for more than 300 yards for only the second time in his 21-game starting career. His 41 attempts easily surpassed his previous career high of 28.

Roethlisberger wouldn't say if his thumb is broken, nor did he blame it for his interceptions.

"We've got a lot of guys dinged up, and we've got to play through pain," he said. "Myself included. It hurts, but it was good enough to play."

The way he and the Steelers were talking, the loss hurt more.

"We've put ourselves behind the 8-ball as far as the playoffs go," Ward said. "I think we've got to win all four of our games left."

Notes

  • Roethlisberger's pregame warmup was monitored by team physician Jim Bradley, apparently to determine if he was healthy enough to play.
  • The Bengals were outgained 474-324 but won for only the fourth time in their last 27 December road games.
  • The Steelers were held to 95 yards rushing after getting a season-high 221 in Cincinnati.
  • Pittsburgh had won six of seven and 9 of 11 from the Bengals.
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Brian Simmons' second-quarter interception sets up the Bengals' third TD of the game.
 
Brian Simmons' second-quarter interception sets up the Bengals' third TD of the game. (Getty Images)
 

 

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Sun. Dec. 4Final
71410738
1437731
Scoring Summary
1ST QUARTER
TDJerome Bettis, 1 Yd run (Jeff Reed kick is good), 4:45. Drive: 8 plays, 68 yards in 4:34.
TDT.J. Houshmandzadeh, 43 Yd pass from Carson Palmer (Shayne Graham kick is good), 3:22. Drive: 4 plays, 74 yards in 1:23.
TDQuincy Morgan, 25 Yd pass from Ben Roethlisberger (Jeff Reed kick is good), 0:13. Drive: 7 plays, 72 yards in 3:09.
2ND QUARTER
TDReggie Kelly, 1 Yd pass from Carson Palmer (Shayne Graham kick is good), 10:08. Drive: 11 plays, 53 yards in 5:05.
TDT.J. Houshmandzadeh, 6 Yd pass from Carson Palmer (Shayne Graham kick is good), 6:57. Drive: 6 plays, 22 yards in 2:03.
FGJeff Reed 23 Yd, 0:00. Drive: 8 plays, 64 yards in 2:52.
3RD QUARTER
FGShayne Graham 30 Yd, 11:01. Drive: 9 plays, 51 yards in 3:59.
TDHines Ward, 20 Yd pass from Ben Roethlisberger (Jeff Reed kick is good), 9:05. Drive: 4 plays, 58 yards in 1:56.
TDRudi Johnson, 1 Yd run (Shayne Graham kick is good), 7:57. Drive: 2 plays, 3 yards in 1:08.
4TH QUARTER
TDRudi Johnson, 14 Yd run (Shayne Graham kick is good), 6:09. Drive: 6 plays, 49 yards in 2:50.
TDHines Ward, 6 Yd pass from Ben Roethlisberger (Jeff Reed kick is good), 2:59. Drive: 10 plays, 72 yards in 3:10.
Players of the Game

H. Ward
Rec 9
Yds 135
Avg 15.0
TD 2

R. Johnson
Rush 21
Yds 98
Avg 4.7
TD 2
 
Cincinnati
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
C. Palmer22/3822730
RushingATTYDSTDLG
R. Johnson2198217
T. Houshmandzadeh1707
C. Palmer3-30-1
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
T. Houshmandzadeh588243
C. Johnson554019
C. Henry552017
R. Kelly31216
C. Perry21207
R. Johnson1505
T. Stewart1404
Pittsburgh
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
B. Roethlisberger29/4138633
RushingATTYDSTDLG
W. Parker1571017
J. Bettis81313
H. Ward1707
B. Roethlisberger1202
D. Staley3208
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
H. Ward9135231
C. Wilson465041
A. Randle El547014
H. Miller344021
J. Tuman126026
Q. Morgan125125
J. Bettis32409
W. Parker111011
D. Staley2905
Complete Player Stats
Other Games
SEA 42 Final
PHI 0
OAK 10 Final
SD 34
NYJ 3 Final
NE 16
DEN 27 Final
KC 31
JAC 20 Final
CLE 14
ARI 17 Final
SF 10
WAS 24 Final
STL 9
DAL 10 Final
NYG 17
TB 10 Final
NO 3
BUF 23 Final
MIA 24
TEN 3 Final
IND 35
MIN 21 Final
DET 16
GB 7 Final
CHI 19
ATL 6 Final
CAR 24
HOU 15 Final
BAL 16