The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the second half with a 16-7 lead, scoring a touchdown courtesy of DeAngelo Williams on the opening drive, and completing three field goals for Chris Boswell, but the defense also gave up 66-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, thrown by Cincinnati’s backup, AJ McCarron, after Andy Dalton injured his thumb and was ruled out for the game.
This has not been a good start for the 10-2 Bengals, also losing tight end Tyler Eifert to a concussion. Safety George Iloka has yet to return, and cornerback Leon Hall also left the field. Vontaze Burfict was sidelined, but returned.
The Bengals start the second half with the ball. The kickoff went for a second consecutive touchback for Boswell. From the 20, Jeremy Hill picked up five yards on a check down pass. On second down, McCarron hung a screen pass up in the air, and William Gay jumped the route, returning it for a pick six, his first interception of the year, but his fifth pick six in a three-season span since returning to Pittsburgh. The Score gave the Steelers breathing room with a 23-7 lead.
Ben Tate returned the kickoff out to the 27. After a one-yard gain from Hill, Cameron Heyward batted down McCarron’s pass to set up third and nine. But he came back to find Green for an 18-yard gain to the 50-yard line.
Will Allen blitzed off the edge for a sack of McCarron, his third of the year and third of his career, but in the process, he collided with Steve McLendon, and both players remained down after the play. Bud Dupree was announced as questionable to return with a tailbone injury. McCarron came back once again, however, to find Green deep for a 21-yard completion and a first down, giving him 132 yards on the day.
After a three-yard run, McCarron narrowly escaped a sack from James Harrison, but completed to the receiver, who was held just short of the first down by Brandon Boykin. On third and one, he was incomplete to Green. The Bengals settle for a field goal to make it 23-10.
Markus Wheaton had his first kick return of the season, gaining just 17 yards out to the 19-yard line. On first down, Roethlisberger found Williams for nine yards. Burfict was slow to get up after making the tackle, and the officials required him to go to the sideline to get evaluated for a possible concussion. On second and one, Williams was stopped for a loss of about one, setting up a third and two. Roethlisberger was buried for his second sack of the day by Carlos Dunlap beating Marcus Gilbert for a loss of eight yards. Jordan Berry‘s punt went out of bounds at the 27-yard line after 53 yards.
Once again, the Bengals quickly found themselves in third and nine after a short gain and an incompletion. Ryan Shazier had a remote chance of picking that last pass off the turf. On third down, Marvin Jones caught the ball, but had no chance of bringing it in without going out of bounds, resulting in a three-and-out. Antonio Brown actually lost yardage on his return, dropped at the 22 after he tried to circle back.
Roethlisberger completed to Wheaton for the first down of 16 yards in front of Hall on a comeback. Bryant was tackled by Burfict on a screen pass for a loss of one. On second and 11, Williams broke a tackle in the backfield to pick up just two. On third and long, Roethlisberger stepped up and hit Brown streaking open on the run for a 26-yard gain.
Across midfield at the 34, the Steelers ran a reverse end around to Bryant, but he was stopped after no gain, with Roethlisberger throwing a cut block. On second and 10, Roethlisberger narrowly avoided a sack by flipping the ball to Miller for a short gain of three yards. Burfict once again came to the sideline after the play. On third and seven, Roethlisberger beat the blitz, hitting Brown for the first down, a phenomenal one-handed catch through contact. Marvin Lewis challenged the ruling, and won the challenge, but a holding call gave the Steelers a first down anyway, so the challenge cost the Steelers a net loss of nine yards.
After that process was completed, Roethlisberger found Miller for a three-yard reception. It was Miller again for nine yards and a first down, his 10th of the game, tying a career high. From the 14, Williams was stopped for no gain. Roethlisberger stepped up and tried to hit Wheaton over the middle near the goal line, but the pass was defended on a forced ball. On third and 10, he was forced to check down to Brown for about a yard on fourth and nine. Boswell connected on his fourth field goal of the day to make it 26-10 with a 16-point lead.
Allen’s blitz chased McCarron out of the pocket, throwing incomplete. He did connect with Marvin Jones on second down for 23 yards. The cornerback pulled it down and scrambled for four yards on the following play. Jones was good for a couple, setting up third and two. On third down, however, Bernard broke through the line for an 18-yard run as Lawrence Timmons was ridden out of the B gap.
From the 31, McCarron hit Sanu for a 23-yard gain to set up first and goal as the Bengals are driving quickly. On first down, though, Bernard was stuffed at the line for no gain. From the eight, McCarron dumped off to Hill for a two-yard gain. McCarron was brought down by Heyward for his sixth sack of the year as Lewis brought on his field goal unit. Mike Nugent‘s second make brought the score to 26-13.
From the 20, Roethlisberger used a clean pocket to find Wheaton for the first down, his fourth reception of the game, and just the second game this year he has had at least that many. On the next play, it was Bryant for nine yards. Williams plowed ahead for a few yards for the conversion as the clock approaches the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger’s next pass to Bryant was a bit off target, but was caught for six yards. On second and four, he was picked off looking deep by Reggie Nelson, his eighth interception of the year.
Taking over at the four-yard line, McCarron’s first pass to Sanu was incomplete. McCarron checked down to Bernard from his own end zone, who was able to get enough for the first down. A completion to Jones went for nine, with Bernard converting to the 28. Tyler Kroft beat Allen for a big gain over the middle, but a hold on the left tackle brought the play back.
On first and 20, McCarron looked deep again, but the pass was intercepted by Robert Golden, the first of his career, returned 27 yards to the 16.
On first down, Williams spun off initial contact to gain around 10 yards. On first and goal, Williams was held for no gain as David DeCastro and Wallace Gilberry skirmished on the ground. Burfict, fool that he is, drew a personal foul to give the Steelers half the distance to the goal. From the one, Williams only got about halfway with a second effort. On second and goal, Williams punched it in with ease for his eighth of the year.
With a 20-point lead now in hand with under four minutes to play, it seems that the AFC North division race will extend for at least one more week. McCarron threw a screen to Bernard for eight yards out of bounds. A completion over the middle inbounds converted for the first. From the 37, Bernard was tackled on a screen after eight yards by Allen in the middle of the field. McCarrons scrambled inbounds for the first down. Lewis used his first timeout.
Another inbound reception went for nine, with Jones moving the chains inside the 35 to the two-minute warning. Following the pause, the Steelers brought down McCarron, with the sack split between Vince Williams and Daniel McCullers. On second and 16, Kroft was good for 22 yards inside the red zone, using their second timeout with 1:14 remaining. Jones picked up another first down to make it first and goal at the five. From there, it was Rex Burkhead catching the McCarron pass to make it 33-20.
The Bengals failed to recover the onside kick, as the ball only rolled nine yards with Williams recovering the ball. The Steelers were able to run out the clock from there to secure the victory, bringing their record to 8-5 and keeping pace with the wilcard race, while reviving very faint hopes for a repeat at the division title.