Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to be perplexed by some of the illegal hits to the head and the calls officials are refusing to make after opposing defenders strike him in the helmet.
For the second consecutive week, Roethlisberger was struck in the head, and the referee did not throw a flag. In the second quarter, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson hit the back of his helmet as he sacked Roethlisberger.
"I lost my cool for a second, but I didn't swear at him," Roethlisberger said. "Once again I got the same response as last week. He said he was just trying to tackle me. So I just let it go."
Roethlisberger's nose was broken when Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's hand hit him last week. He also was hit in the head by Terrell Suggs late in the same game and did not receive a flag. Ngata was fined by the league.
Roethlisberger said there is no sense in complaining about not receiving protection from the officials.
"It is what it is," he said. "It's a violent game. You've never heard me complain about injuries or calls, so I'm not going to start now."
Roethlisberger's teammates are wondering when the officials are going to begin protecting their franchise quarterback.
"We see the hits that Ben takes every week," linebacker James Farrior said. "It's kind of ridiculous that they always miss those calls but any time we breathe on a quarterback they always seem to find that.
"When? We [have] three more games left. I mean, how long should it take?
"It's terrible, man. They protect all the quarterbacks but ours. We're going to keep fighting, we're going to keep on going. Hopefully, they'll catch it some day."
Said safety Ryan Clark: "I already told you, they protect every quarterback in the NFL but ours. I don't know how many times I have to say it. And they protect the ones we play a lot."
The Steelers returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game for the first time in more than 12 years.
Troy Polamalu had a 45-yard return and LaMarr Woodley had a 14-yard return. The previous time it happened was Nov. 22, 1998, in a game against Jacksonville. Dewayne Washington returned interceptions of 52 and 78 yards in the Steelers' 30-15 victory.
"You win games when you do that," Clark said. "Coach [Dick] LeBeau puts up all these stats. I believe it's in the 90th percentile that if you score two touchdowns on defense you'll win the football game. Those were big. Troy right now is playing like the MVP of the league on defense."
It was the second time Polamalu returned an interception for a touchdown in the regular season. The other one also came against his college roommate, Carson Palmer.
On Oct. 3, 2004, he returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals, running over Palmer near the goal line to score. This time, Polamalu avoided Palmer near the sideline and stretched the ball over the goal line.
"No one is playing as good as Troy Polamalu in football right now in my opinion," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "When we need a play he provides it, and he did [Sunday]."
Polamalu later got his second interception of the game and sixth of the season against Palmer. It was the second time in his career that he recorded two interceptions in a game. He also did it Nov. 14, 2004, against Cleveland.
The Steelers are 21-3 when Polamalu has an interception.
Woodley scored a touchdown for the third time in his career. He also scored on a 77-yard fumble return against Minnesota in 2009 and scored against Baltimore in 2008. Woodley also had two sacks, giving him 8 1/2 for the season.
Tomlin said Woodley owed the team after he jumped off sides on the first drive of the game on a third-down play. The penalty gave the Bengals a first down, and they went down and scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
"That was definitely on me, but my teammates were very supportive, telling me it was no big deal, just keep your head in the game and go out there and make plays. I was able to go out there and make plays. Coach LeBeau put me in position and we did a great job as a team."
The Steelers felt like Cincinnati linebacker Brandon Johnson took a cheap shot on Ryan Mundy on the final play of the game. The Steelers were forced to punt with five seconds remaining. The punt went out of bounds and the clock ran out, but Johnson blind-sided Mundy after the whistle.
Mundy went after Johnson after the play, and there was a brief skirmish.
"That's what losers do," Farrior said.
The Steelers were penalized nine times for 89 yards. Most of the infractions were holding penalties. The Steelers were flagged six times for holding, four on offensive players and two on special-team players.
The offense was able to overcome many of the penalties, but they did slow down the offense, which failed to score a touchdown. The offense has not scored on a drive that started in their territory since the opening drive Nov. 28 against Buffalo.
"On the one drive we might have gone 140 yards," Roethlisberger said. "We kept going and backwards and going and backwards. ... Those things feel good, but it's not good enough because we have to score points. Field goals aren't good enough. Luckily, our defense bailed us out."
On the drive Roethlisberger referenced, the Steelers possessed the ball for 15 plays and 9 minutes, 21 seconds, but did not score.
Veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El has been relegated to fifth receiver on the depth chart, but he stepped in and made a big play in the second quarter after Emmanuel Sanders left the game for a few plays with a knee injury.
Randle El made a leaping one-handed grab of a Roethlisberger pass late in the second quarter that set up a field goal just before halftime.
"I want to be prepared and I want to be ready," Randle El said. "I want to make sure I know where to be when I need to be there, so when an opportunity comes, I can cash in. It worked out for me today. I want to continue to do that so I can get opportunities."
Kicker Shaun Suisham was 3 for 3 on field-goal attempts and is 9 for 9 since replacing Jeff Reed a month ago. Suisham booted field goals of 23, 35 and 41 yards. He is 6 for 6 on field goals between 40-49 yards.
The fact that the Bengals scored just one touchdown against the Steelers' defense Sunday isn't big news. It's who scored the touchdown that is.
The unlikely scorer was left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who made it 7-0 on a 1-yard pass from Palmer with 9:58 to play in the first quarter. The Bengals would not score again the rest of the game.
"I would have thought that if I would have caught a TD in a game, we would have won it," said Whitworth, who turned 29 Sunday. "I've been begging for a while. We had something that we saw on film that we thought we could exploit, and we were able to do it."
Whitworth, who played college football at Louisiana State University, previously caught a touchdown while playing tight end at West Monroe High School in Louisiana.
Terrell Owens, one half of the "Tocho Show" on Versus Network, was somewhat miffed by his lack of production after the game.
"I'm just going with the plays that are called," he said. "I don't call 'em, I just run 'em. Sometimes I feel like I'm just out there running. I got some looks early, but after that, nothing. They [the Steelers] did a great job of game planning."
The statistics show Owens with one catch for 22 yards, that coming on a key third-down conversion from the Steelers' 43 in the first quarter. The drive ended with the Bengals' only score of the game and a 7-0 lead.
In all, Owens was targeted six times, twice on the team's first drive.
"I had to wait 'til late in the game until I got some looks," he said. "You can watch the film. I got no looks. I can't throw the ball to myself."
Owens has seemed more upset with the Bengals' performance this season, even more so than this game. Cincinnati has lost 10 in a row after starting the season 2-1.
"I have no idea," Owens responded to a question about the Bengals having another win in them the remaining three games of the season. "I know we're a talented team. We just have to go out and do our jobs. Personally, I'm having a pretty good season, but that's not why I came here. I came here to make the playoffs."
Roethlisberger wore a shield on the front of his face mask in the first half to protect his broken nose, but ditched it after halftime after the rain bothered his vision. Roethlisberger said he made the decision after running the two-minute drill late in the second quarter.
"It was starting to get wet," Roethlisberger said. "Every time I hit the ground, it was harder to see. I took it off and went to a different kind of face mask and hoped [the nose] wouldn't get hit."
Correction/Clarification: (Published December 14, 2010) An item in the Steelers notebook in Monday's editions incorrectly stated the number of career touchdowns for linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Woodley scored his third career touchdown Sunday against Cincinnati.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. Ed Bouchette and Jerry Micco contributed to this report. First Published December 13, 2010 5:00 AM