The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping for their fifth consecutive win today, and their second against a divisional opponent in that span. They are in Cincinnati today for their final road game of the regular season against the Bengals, who have struggled throughout this season, but come into this one having won two games in a row.
It has been a bit of a theme this year that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had mixed success on the road this year, but the offense has lately found a new focal point in running back Le’Veon Bell, who is coming off a 298-yard, three-touchdown performance a week ago in a game in which Roethlisberger threw three interceptions.
On the injury front, two starters, Ramon Foster and Javon Hargrave, return to the lineup today, but DeAngelo Williams, who was expected to make his return today, is inactive. So, too, is rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, who was called up from the practice squad after last week’s game.
For the Bengals, the big inactive is All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green, but so is key rotational lineman Wallace Gilberry and third tight end C.J. Uzomah.
The Steelers won the coin toss, but deferred to the second half. Predictably, the kickoff went for a touchback. Jeremy Hill was stopped after about a two-yard gain on first down. After about a yard on second down, Andy Dalton was sacked, but Stephon Tuitt was flagged for a facemask penalty. He then left the field.
From the 43, Dalton connected with Brandon LaFell for a first down across midfield. Hill added four yards up the middle after eluding Ryan Shazier in the backfield. He added a first-down run to the 35.
Shazier came on the blitz and forced Dalton to throw the ball away to avoid a sack. But he came back on the next play to hit LaFell for 17 yards to the 17. Mike Mitchell made the tackle on Hill after one yard. Dalton connected with Hill left to his own devices in the flat for an eight-yard gain. On third and one, Rex Burkhead just got enough to set up first and goal. On the first play from goal to go, Hill picked up two to the six. He got maybe two more inside the five. On third and goal, Dalton looked for Tyler Eifert in the back of the end zone, incomplete. Randy Bullock, however, gave Cincinnati opening-drive points with a field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sammie Coates actually got a ball that was returnable and worked through traffic to get out past the 40-yard line, the Steelers’ first such return of the season. From the 45, Ben Roethlisberger checked down quickly over the middle to Le’Veon Bell for 10 yards. A pass in the flat to Ladarius Green went for six. Roethlisberger’s third straight pass went to Antonio Brown for a first down inside the Bengals’ 25.
From the 31, Bell’s first carry with three tight ends on the field picked up just one yard. He got buried in the backfield on second down for officially a loss of two. On third and 11, Roethlisberger’s pass looking for Green was high and off his fingertips. Chris Boswell added a field goal to tie the game.
Boswell tried a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, but, despite the runner bobbling the return, he still got out beyond the 35. Hill worked through initial contact for fight for 13 yards to the 44. He added another six yards on the following play. Dalton’s second-down pass was incomplete out of bounds, too high. LaFell did a nice job of holding onto the third-down pass with Burns covering him on a low throw.
From the Steelers’ 40, Dalton scrambled to the left and threw into the end zone, but Burns was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting up first and goal at the one. Lawrence Timmons stuffed Hill at the goal line on first down, and didn’t quite get in on second down. On third and goal, Hill tried to elevate for the score and failed. Marvin Lewis challenged the spot on the previous play, but lost the challenge. Dalton scored on a quarterback keeper on fourth down, however, to spoil the goal-line stand.
So for, the Bengals have been the beneficiary of two huge defensive penalties on both scoring drives. A third-down sack turned into a 15-yard gain to avoid a three-and-out on their opening drive, and then they were handed first and goal from the one because of an unnecessary pass interference. The Steelers have been flirting with disaster for a long stretch of the season now, seeing how many penalties they can take without it costing them a game. They have gotten away with it during their four-game winning streak, but now it’s gotten them into a hole they will have to climb out of on the road.
Following a touchback, Roethlisberger connected with David Johnson for a first-down reception. He grounded the ball on the following play after some window dressing was negated by the defense reading a screen. Bell picked up five or six yards on second down. On third down, Roethlisberger held the ball and eventually looked for Eli Rogers, who could not bring in the ball after being hit by a second defender. The ball ricocheted for what should have been an interception by defensive end Michael Johnson, but instead, the Steelers were able to punt, inside the 20.
Hill picked up four yards on first down to the 22. Dalton spun out of what should have been a sack on second down and instead found LaFell for a first down. He was flushed out of the pocket again but this time had to throw the ball away. A screen to Cody Core went for 11. Another quick pass to Core went for three. Dalton went deep for LaFell for yet another reception, this one for 25, close to field goal range. Burkhead took a pass 18 yards to the 13.
Ross Cockrell missed an open-field tackle on a bubble screen to LaFell to gain nine. From the four, Sean Davis was the first to contact the runner for no gain. On third and one, Hill got into the end zone to put the Bengals up 17-3, this time without aid from penalties. The Steelers now have their work cut out for them to get back into this game.
Fitzgerald Toussaint was not able to get to the 20 from a kick taken a yard deep. Bell kept his legs churning for about seven yards. Roethlisberger looked for Green down the field, too high. On third and three, though, he dropped a dime to Brown for 32 yards. On the draw, Bell backed his was upfield for 10. Adam Jones was flagged for taunting after the play. Now at the 16, Bell worked his way for about three or four yards on second down. Vontaze Burfict took a helmet-to-helmet hit from David DeCastro and left the game, to be checked for a concussion. B.J. Finney stepped in for DeCastro. On third and seven, Roethlisberger threw a laser to Brown for the touchdown, his 12th of the season. But it was negated by a late chop block call on Bell. On third and 22, now, Rogers took a loss of three yards on a screen to set up a 49-yard field goal attempt. Boswell just got enough to make it 17-6.
Boswell’s ensuing kickoff was fielded just outside the end zone to Alex Erickson, who nearly scored a touchdown, to the 26 of the Steelers. Dalton, however, nearly threw an interception right to Shazier on the first play. Burkhead went for nine. He got free off the left side to set up first and goal. Adding five yards when he should have had one on first down, Burkhead was met in the backfield on second. On third and goal, Dalton threw to the flat for Burkhead, incomplete with Burns in coverage. The Bengals instead settled, mercifully, for a field goal, making it 20-6.
Toussaint could only take the ball out to the 15 on the kickoff as the Steelers try to get more points on the board before the end of the half. From the 15, Xavier Grimble got his first touch in a while with a five-yard reception, but an illegal man downfield wiped out the gain and took a loss. Back to the 10, a wide pitch for Bell went for just four. After the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger connected with Brown for 13 off play-action.
He threw behind Brown on the following play, tipped by Carlos Dunlap. Coates caught his first pass in week for 10 yards. From the 37, Roethlisberger under pressure checked down to Bell for just three. Roethlisberger looked down the field for Coates, incomplete, with no pass interference called. After buying time, Roethlisberger found Cobi Hamilton for 21.
A short pass to Bell led to clocking the ball with 15 seconds left. From the 31 on third and two, Roethlisberger tried to find Bell late, but the back was not looking for the ball, incomplete. Boswell’s second attempt from 49 yards was good, making it 20-9 heading into halftime.