Roethlisberger, Steelers overcome wintry conditions to solidify AFC North lead

The Steelers and Cincinnati played last night as if they had little rest between games, and then the Bengals did what the Bengals do, they went to sleep.

It was cold, windy and snowy at Heinz Field, where the sloppy play of both teams added to the mix before the Steelers prevailed, 27-10.

The victory nevertheless boosted the Steelers' record to 8-3 in first place in the AFC North Division while the Bengals stumbled to 1-9-1, the worst record in the conference.

"Being 8-3 in the next few days is nice," said defensive end Aaron Smith, who came through with three batted passes and another dominating performance. "Coming off a short week is hard."

The Steelers, who trailed, 7-0, after one period of lackluster play, scored 20 consecutive points on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller, two Jeff Reed field goals of 37 and 38 yards and a 2-yard run by Gary Russell. Roethlisberger added another touchdown on an 8-yard scramble late in the game.

"I think we stumbled out of the gate a little bit, both offensively and defensively," coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Bengals scored first on Ryan Fitzpatrick's 10-yard pass to Glenn Holt and late in the fourth quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.

Tomlin calls it a game of attrition, and it certainly was that last night.

Not only did the Steelers wear down the Bengals, but some players on both sides also wore out.

The most serious might be defensive end Brett Keisel, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained right knee. The Steelers also lost receiver Santonio Holmes and halfback Willie Parker to injuries in the second half. Holmes has a concussion but should be fine, according to Tomlin. Parker "tweaked" his previously injured knee, the coach said, and left the game for good after a 15-yard run in the third quarter.

The Bengals lost two defensive linemen with one starter on their line already out before the game.

Roethlisberger had an efficient game, completing 17 of 30 for 243 yards, no interceptions and no sacks for only the second time this season, the other against the Bengals as well. He also ran three times for 13 yards, picking up a first down on one and a touchdown on the other. Holmes caught five passes for 84 yards.

"It was a blizzard out there," Roethlisberger said of the weather. "I was throwing a lot of sliders out there."

The Steelers scored on three short touchdowns, an area where they've had difficult this season.

"It just felt good to score," said Roethlisberger, who threw his only touchdown pass in the past four games.

The Steelers now have some extra time before they play at New England a week from Sunday.

"We went through that midseason struggle offensively," Roethlisberger said. "I feel like we're going in the right direction."

They were going in no direction early, especially on the ground. Parker's last run of 15 yards gave him 37 total on 14 carries. Mewelde Moore picked things up with 56 yards on 15 carries, and he also caught four passes for 41 including a 22-yard pickup on the rare screen pass.

"Mo has been doing it week in and week out," Roethlisberger said.

Holt replaced Chad Johnson, deactivated and sent home by Bengals coach Marvin Lewis yesterday morning, and he staked his team to a 7-0 lead by catching the 10-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers tied it, 7-7, with 10:16 left in the second quarter on Roethlisberger's 3-yard pass to Miller, only his second touchdown pass in the past five games. A pass to Hines Ward that covered 37 yards to the 13 made that drive come alive.

Two long passes to Holmes set up the Steelers' second score, Reed's 37-yard field goal, and a 10-7 lead late in the first half. Holmes caught passes of 27 and 22 yards on that 72-yard drive, the second on third-and-9.

The Bengals opened the game without starting defensive end Antwan Odom, who is injured. They lost his replacement, Frostee Rucker, in the first quarter and their other end and leading sacker, Robert Geathers, in the second quarter.

It should have been like shooting ducks in a pond for the Steelers, but they struggled mightily on offense in the first half.

Still, they led, 10-7, and were driving toward another score in the third quarter. Holmes caught a 19-yard pass on third down to keep the series alive, but his next catch was his last. He caught a 6-yarder over the middle, where he was hit quickly and hard to the head by safety Chris Crocker. Holmes wobbled as he stood up and was removed from the game with an obvious concussion.

Ward proceeded to drop the next pass, and the Steelers had to settle for Reed's second field goal, from 38 yards, for a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter.

They made it 20 consecutive points when Russell ended a drive with his first NFL touchdown, a 2-yard run around right end near the end of the third quarter.

Lewis made a strange decision when, trailing by 13 points, he opted for a 26-yard Graham field goal on fourth down at the Steelers' 8. That brought Cincinnati within 10 points with 6:47 to go.

The Steelers then drove 73 yards on 11 plays, a drive that ended when Roethlisberger scrambled up the middle on third down for an 8-yard touchdown with 2:15 left.

Troy Polamalu intercepted his fifth pass of the season at the 2 to put an end to it.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at . First Published November 21, 2008 5:00 AM


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