So where was that all season?
Not in the nick of time, the Steelers played their best game of the season, cobbling together offense, defense and special teams to stun the Cincinnati Bengals with a first-quarter outburst unseen here in nine years and then ease into a 30-20 victory Sunday night at Heinz Field.
All it did was raise their record to 6-8 as they try to avoid their first losing season in 10 years. It technically kept them eligible for the playoffs, the odds of them making it akin to Christmas being postponed.
Steelers Report: Steelers 30, Bengals 20
teelers beat writers Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers' win agaist th Bengals at Heinz Field Pittsburgh. (Video by Peter Diana; 12/15/2013)
Tomlin talks about Steelers 30-20 win against Bengals
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks about the Steelers 30-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night at Heinz Field. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 12/15/2013)
“We just told each other we want to finish strong, starting with this one,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “That’s what we did.”
The Steelers erupted for three touchdowns in the first quarter and never looked back, upsetting the AFC North Division-leading Bengals, who were favored to win in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1989.
“We played some good ball,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I’m proud of the guys. The Cincinnati Bengals are a playoff team, on top of the AFC North Division. We wanted to just play football, have some fun. We did that.”
Although only 45,873 turned out for the game, the smallest crowd in Heinz Field’s 12-year history, the Steelers responded with their best effort of the season, building a 30-7 lead after three quarters and resisting Cincinnati’s frantic fourth-quarter comeback try.
“It felt really good,” Sanders said of the big lead that has been rare for the 2013 Steelers. “I feel we haven’t been playing Steelers football, and [Sunday night] I felt we played Steelers football, and it felt good. We had a balanced attack.”
While it kept their faint playoff hopes ticking, the Steelers delivered a serious blow to Cincinnati’s attempts to earn a playoff bye.
At 9-5, the Bengals still lead the division, but a victory would have slipped them into the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC with two games left.
“Any time we lose, it’s a squandered opportunity,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “All we can control is us … and [Sunday night] we didn’t take care of us.”
Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns as the Steelers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, their best quarter of the season and the first time they scored that many points in a quarter since Halloween 2004 against New England.
Brown caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger and returned a punt 67 yards for another.
“It was a great feeling,” Brown said. “It’s always great when you dictate the game and play ahead and not play catch-up.”
Le’Veon Bell began the scoring onslaught with a 1-yard run set up after Bengals punter Kevin Huber fumbled a snap on their first series.
After those quick touchdowns, Shaun Suisham added three field goals as the Steelers hit 30 points or more for the third time this season. Suisham’s third field goal of the game, from 26 yards, gave the Steelers a 30-7 lead with 6:18 to go in the third.
Cincinnati climbed back with two touchdowns in the fourth — both on fourth-down plays. The first came on the second play of the final quarter when Andy Dalton threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Eifert over Ryan Clark.
Their second touchdown came with 5:46 left when Dalton threw a 13-yard pass to Marvin Jones, who was wide open in the left side of the end zone.
Needing another touchdown and two 2-point conversions to forge a tie, the Bengals failed on their first try for 2 when Jarvis Jones batted down Dalton’s pass.
That left Cincinnati trailing, 30-20, and needing two scores to pull it out.
They could not.
The game went so well for the Steelers through three quarters that coach Mike Tomlin even went 2 for 2 on replay challenges. One challenge led to Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham losing a fumble after a 14-yard catch at their 48. Ziggy Hood recovered it for the Steelers.
On the next series, Roethlisberger threw his first interception in five games on a deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Adam Jones picked it off at the Cincinnati 2. That ended an NFL-long streak of 207 passes without an interception for Roethlisberger.
The Steelers held a 27-7 halftime lead, first stretching their 21-0 first-quarter lead to 24-0 on Suisham’s 25-yard field goal before Cincinnati finally scored.
Cincinnati also scored on rookie Giovani Bernard’s 1-yard run in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger completed his first 12 passes and finished 20 of 25 for 191 yards. He was sacked once. Bell ran 24 times for 57 yards.
The Bengals managed just 57 yards rushing, their lowest total of the season.
The Steelers scored their first touchdown with some help from Huber, who fumbled a snap that started at Cincinnati’s 16. He picked up the ball and Will Allen tackled him at the 1. On his second carry, Bell scored his sixth touchdown to put the Steelers on top five minutes into the game, and the gates opened.
Thanks in part to another Bengals gaffe on special teams, the Steelers began their next scoring drive at the Cincinnati 47. They were helped when Cedric Peerman inadvertently called for a fair catch on Suisham’s kickoff. Peerman ran almost to midfield, but the officials put the ball back on the Cincinnati 9. The Bengals wound up punting from their 10 when that series went nowhere.
It took the Steelers eight plays to move those 47 yards, capped when Roethlisberger scrambled to his right and found Brown in the middle of the end zone.
Brown then made it the best quarter of the season for the Steelers by returning Huber’s punt up the middle with 1:12 to go.
“I thought we rode the wave that the special teams provided there early on in the first half of the game,” Tomlin said.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter: @EdBouchette. First Published December 15, 2013 9:23 PM