Gerry Dulac's Two-Minute Drill: Game Eleven vs. Bengals

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Game ball goes to: DE Aaron Smith

Try as they might, the Bengals didn't know what to do with Smith, either with the run or the pass. All he did was stay unblocked most of the night and help stuff the Bengals' running game that was held to 43 yards on 20 carries, including just 35 yards on 16 carries by RB Cedric Benson. If that wasn't enough, he batted three passes by Bengals QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the line of scrimmage, helping a defense that held the Bengals to 208 yards offense and 11 first downs. It didn't even matter that Fitzpatrick was sacked just once.

The countdown

A quick look at the top performances from the win vs. the Bengals:

1. WELCOME BACK, BIG BEN: After throwing just one touchdown in the previous four games and struggling at the control of the Greg Louganis no-splash offense, Ben Roethlisberger looked like his old self, throwing for 243 yards and a touchdown and running for another on an 8-yard scramble. Sure, the offense didn't end a seven-quarter touchdown drought until Heath Miller's 3-yard TD catch in the second quarter. But Roethlisberger, who was not sacked, escaped pressure a couple times and showed no hesitancy to run, even converting a third-and-4 with a 6-yard scramble.

2. GARY RUSSELL'S 2-YARD TOUCHDOWN: The Bengals were doing just what they did in the first meeting -- hanging around, trailing, 10-7, at the half -- until Russell's 2-yard TD run with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Suddenly, the Steelers have found a dependable short-yardage back.

3. KEEPING T.J. FROM TD: After they recovered a muffed punt at the Steelers' 39, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick tried four passes to WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and couldn't gain a first down. It was a big stop with 32 seconds left in the first half because the Steelers were leading, 10-7.

4. SANTONIO HOLMES' 19-YARD CATCH: Of all the big plays turned in by Holmes, who had five catches for 84 yards, maybe none was bigger than a 19-yard catch on third-and-10 to the Bengals' 46, setting up a field goal. Holmes was the hot receiver on the play because of a Bengals blitz.

5. GETTING MORE FROM MEWELDE: When it became apparent Willie Parker was having problems against the Bengals, the Steelers switched to Mewelde Moore. All he did was gouge the Bengals again, rushing for 56 yards on 15 carries and catching four passes for 41 yards.

Inside the numbers

That was the longest punt executed by Paul Ernster, and it happened to be the last one against the Bengals. Before that, he punted four times for 23, 24, 28 and 33 yards. Ernster's average for five punts -- all of which went out of bounds -- was 28.4 yards.

What was he thinking?

With a 1--9-1 record that is the worst in the AFC, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis could attempt nearly anything against the Steelers, especially after he already had been bold enough to send his big-play receiver home. Anything, that is, except this: Trailing, 20-7, with 6:50 remaining and the ball at the Steelers 8, Lewis had Shayne Graham kick a 26-yard field goal instead of going for a touchdown. The decision was puzzling because, with or without the field goal, the Bengals still needed to score on two possessions to win.

Overheard

"We're going to enjoy this bye week right there, this mini little bye week. We're 8-3. We're going to enjoy this one. We got the New England Patriots. They beat us pretty bad up there [last year]. It's good to be 8-3 right now." -- WR Hines Ward on the extended break after beating the Bengals.

Up next: VS. New England Patriots, 4:15 P.M. Sunday, Nov. 30, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

The Patriots have won six of the past seven meetings with the Steelers, including the past four at Gillette Stadium. The most recent was a 34-13 victory Dec. 9, 2007.

X's and O's

The Steelers' defensive plan, just like the first meeting in Cincinnati, was to have CB Ike Taylor follow Bengals WR Chad Johnson everywhere he went. To do that, though, he would have had to get on a plane and follow Ocho Cinco back to Cincinnati, where he was dispatched for disciplinary reasons. Instead, much of the defensive focus shifted to Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the NFL leader in catches (73) and third-down receptions (24). After catching four passes for 20 yards in the first half, Houshmandzadeh was shut out in the second.


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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