The Pittsburgh Steelers are having a rough time of it so far in all phases in Cincinnati, entering the second half with a 20-9 deficit. The Bengals have scored on all four of their meaningful first-half drives, with two touchdowns and two field goals. Three drives were aided either by penalty or by long returns on kickoffs, one of which they almost broke for a touchdown.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin expressed his disgust for the Steelers’ penalties as the team headed into the locker room, noting that the defense wiped out a three-and-out on the Bengals’ opening drive with a facemask penalty on a sack on third down. Stephon Tuitt was injured on that play. Later, a pass interference put the ball on the one-yard line to lead to a touchdown. the Steelers also had a touchdown come off the scoreboard due to a chop block penalty.
Meanwhile, Tuitt was joined on the sideline by Ricardo Mathews with injuries, leaving the Steelers with just three healthy defensive linemen. The Bengals also saw Vontaze Burfict leave the field to be checked for a concussion, and his backup, Vincent Rey, suffered a hamstring injury.
Stephon Tuitt’s status for the game was just downgraded to OUT. In the meantime, the Ravens are leading the Eagles 20-14 at halftime, with Joe Flacco finding Steve Smith with about 10 seconds remaining in the half for a touchdown.
Following a touchback, the Steelers’ drive began with a five-yard run up the middle for Le’Veon Bell. Another carry led to a three-yard gain, setting up what would have been a third and two, but Burfict, who returned, was pushed by Marcus Gilbert. Afterward, another flag was thrown when a Bengal pushed a Steeler, but when all was said and done, that flag was not enforced. On third and 17, Ben Roethlisberger, however, found Ladarius Green down the field for 23 yards. Safety Shawn Williams was slow to get up after the play.
From the 41, Bell was able to bounce outside to the right for eight yards. An end-around to Sammie Coates for first-down yardage for 15 yards. A personal foul for 15 yards on Burfict put the Steelers at the Bengals’ 21. Bell got the carry from there and picked up about four yards. He was stopped for a loss of one, his second negative run of the game. On third and six, David DeCastro was flagged for a false start. Back to the 22 on third and 11, Roethlisberger went to the end zone for Antonio Brown, but he was in double coverage and Adam Jones knocked the ball away. Chris Boswell‘s fourth field goal attempt of the game, all from at least 40 yards out, was good, making it 20-12 and a one-possession game.
The Steelers coverage unit mercifully made a tackle short of the 25-yard line, and the Bengals were flagged for a hold as well, backing them up inside the 15. From the 10, however, Jeremy Hill was able to pick up a four-yard gain on first down. Hill was injured on the play. In the meantime, Mathews returned to the game. Hill walked off with help, flexing his right knee.
On second and six, Rex Burkhead ripped through the middle of the defense for nine yards. From the 23, Andy Dalton avoided pressure, flushing out of the pocket and finding Tyler Boyd for five yards. Under pressure, Dalton tossed the ball away. On third and five, the Steelers only rushed three and Dalton quickly found Tyler Eifert for his first reception of the game to move the chains.
James Harrison caught Hill, who returned, in the backfield for a loss of three. Facing a two defensive back blitz, Dalton got the ball off quickly and James Wright made a fantastic catc hfor five yards. Ryan Shazier blitzed and brought Dalton down for the first time today for the sack. Antonio Brown fielded the punt at the 30.
Bell had nowhere to go on first down, working his way to the left for two yards. Roethlisberger ripped one down the field to Eli Rogers for 27 yards down to the Bengals’ 40. After a five-yard gain, Roethlisberger threw to the end zone for Coates, but Dre Kirkpatrick defended the ball without calling a facemask. A crossing route to Green looked like it got just enough yardage for a first down.
From the 30, Roethlisberger saw nowhere to go and scrambled for a loss of one. Green left the field with an injury, checking himself out. On second and 11, his pass was too hot and a bit high for Jesse James, off his outstretched hands. On third and 11, Roethlisberger’s pass was deflected, batted down by a leaping defensive back on the blitz. Boswell added his fifth field goal of the day, and third from 49, to make it 20-15.
Another short kickoff allowed the Bengals to return the ball to the 30-yard line. Boyd took a quick pass for eight yards, with Harrison on the tackle. Hill was stopped by Timmons just shy of the first-down marker. On third and inches, however, he got the yardage across the 40-yard line. Timmons intercepted Dalton on the following play near midfield and was able to return it to the 34.
Bell’s patient running picked up nine yards on first down to end the third quarter. He was able to get to the left sideline for six yards and the first down. From the 19, however, DeCastro was flagged for a holding call. Roethlisberger found Rogers for 17 yards to set up a second and three. With the jumbo package in, Bell was stuffed for no gain. On third and three, a critical play, Roethlisberger looked for Hamilton in the end zone, but incomplete, so the offense had to settle for yet another field goal attempt. Boswell’s sixth field goal made it 20-18 with 12:25 to play.
The Steelers did a nice job of halting a screen pass for no gain after a touchback. On second down, Shazier cut Hill down for a loss of one. On third and 11, Dalton’s pass facing a blitz was batted down by Ross Cockrell in front of Brandon LaFell. The Bengals’ punt bounced out at the 31-yard line.
Bell picked up 12 up the middle to start the drive. Roethlisberger bobbled the snap and was forced to fall on it for a loss of one. Roethlisberger did find Green for 10 yards to set up a third and one. On the third and short, an offside penalty gave the offense a free play, so Roethlisberger took a shot down the field, which was nearly intercepted.
At the Bengals’ 43 now, Roethlisberger looked down the field for Brown, but Kirkpatrick was flagged for a hold. Roethlisberger tried to check down to Bell, but he dropped the ball. Kirkpatrick, however, was flagged for another hold, this time on Hamilton.
Now at the 33, with first and 10, Bell was stood up at the line after gaining one yard, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on the defense, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. From the 18, an end around for Coates was blown up for a loss of six. A timeout was used prior to the second and 16. Roethlisberger hit Rogers for the touchdown on the following play, the second time they’ve gotten into the end zone, but the first time it counted. A failed two-point conversion gave the Steelers a 24-20 lead.
After a touchback, off a play-action bootleg, Dalton connected with LaFell for a first down. From the 39, Hill was dropped for a loss of four in the backfield. He was flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw it away on second down. Facing third and 14, Timmons on the blitz forced an early throw, with Burns breaking up the pass for LaFell, forcing the Bengals to punt it. It was a good punt that Brown had to backpedal for, returning it for about five yards, to only the 16.
Off of play action, Roesthlisberger dumped it off to Bell for eight. Bell with some power running gained three or four to move the chains. Roethlisberger tried to check down to Bell again, throwing too low for an incompletion. Bell gained two on the ground to set up a third and eight. Roethlisberger hit Green for a bit third-down conversion over the middle. Green stayed down after the play and had to walk off the field, but his huge reception was a bit play. It was his fifth catch for 71 total yards.
After a nine-yard pass to Rogers, Bell ran it for the first down. A checkdown to Bell picked up nine yards and stayed inbounds to force the Bengals to use a timeout. Bell picked up three yards to move the chains and get to the two-minute warning.
On first down, bell was stopped in the backfield for a loss of one. Roethlisberger nearly hit on a touchdown for Brown, but Kirkpatrick was finally flagged for pass interference. The first-down gave the Steelers what they needed to run out the clock. Pittsburgh won 24-20, moving to 9-5 on the season, and setting up a chance to win the AFC North with a Christmas Day victory over the Ravens.