The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a 14-14 road game against the Cincinnati Bengals heading into the second half after allowing the home team to march down the field in less than a minute at the end of the first half to tie the game, ignited by a 47-yard kick return. James Conner has both touchdowns for the Steelers, both on the ground, while Tyler Boyd has both of the Bengals’ scores.
Following an ugly kick return allowed to end the first half to Alex Erickson, they allowed another to open the second, the Bengals beginning their first possession of the third quarter from the Steelers’ 49. Joe Mixon slipped through for about four yards on first down. Andy Dalton under pressure threw high to Cody Core, who could not hold on to the ball with Jon Bostic in coverage. Now third and long, Cameron Sutton batted down the seam route, but T.J. Watt was offsides, making it third and one. Mixon was stuffed for a loss on the second attempt on third down, Watt making the tackle.
Ryan Switzer signaled for a fair catch at the 12-yard line, where the Steelers opened their first drive of the half. Out of a run formation, the Steelers did run the ball, but were limited to one yard for Conner on first down. A short pass to Jesse James quickly made it third down and three. Ben Roethlisberger hit Xavier Grimble for a catch and run with yards after the catch down to the 41.
Roethlisberger fired a short pass to Antonio Brown for a first down over the middle from the slot, but he took a hard hit to the head by Vontaze Burfict, escorted to the sideline. He is being put through the concussion protocol. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a deep ball go off his hands on what could have been a touchdown. Conner ran for 11 on the following play for the first down to the Bengals’ 35.
A short pass to Brown went for four yards to the 31, with Roethlisberger overthrowing him into the end zone on the following play against William Jackson III, but he was flagged for defensive holding, given Pittsburgh a first down.
Conner found a big hole off the right side, very nearly scoring from about 26 yards out, down to the one. He was stopped on first and goal, Roethlisberger misfiring for James on second down against Preston Brown. Now third and goal, Conner was stopped in the backfield, Burfict and Sam Hubbard on the tackle. Chris Boswell’s first field goal of the game did them a 17-14 lead.
Boswell kicked the ball short again, Erickson getting out to the 28 on the return. He caught the first pass of the drive but for two yards. Mixon was stuffed for a loss by Watt and others to make it third and 10. Dalton looked for Uzomah down the field again, but Sutton was there to tip it away. Switzer was able to retrieve a long punt and return it out past the 20.
After being denied at the goal line, Conner knocked multiple defenders around for a 16-yard run, knocking Shawn Williams out of the game as he hit 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row, and third in as many weeks.
Stevan Ridley checked in for a short gain the following play. Off play action, Roethlisberger didn’t find anybody open and tossed a deep throwaway. Now third and eight, Smith-Schuster was wide open for 13 yards over the middle of the field against a blitz.
Following a one-yard gain on a pass to James, a false start made it second and 14. Vance McDonald was tackled on a screen by Darius Philips, a rookie defensive back. On third and 13, Roethlisberger threw short of the chains, stopped five yards short. Kameron Canaday was called for holding for the second time in the game on the ensuing punt.
Cordy Glenn was flagged for a hold on the last play of the third quarter, negating a long catch by Boyd. Dalton was under pressure but flushed out to his left to deliver the long pass. Following the penalty, Dalton found Boyd for 10 to make it second and 10. A.J. Green converted on the following play for 14.
Mixon made a tackler miss in the middle of the field for a 16-yard gain to the 50. Following a seven-yard gain to Boyd, Mark Walton was stopped for no gain. On third and three, Boyd converted in front of Sutton.
Following a short Mixon run, Stephon Tuitt got his first sack of the season for a seven-yard loss. Now third and 15, Haden broke up a pass intended for Green to force a punt. Switzer fair caught the punt at the 11.
Conner picked up 12 on the ground to start the drive. He got the pass for a short gain the following play. Roethlisberger dumped it off to him under pressure for four yards. Now third and four, he had time to find James for the first down, getting a few additional yards for 10.
Roethlisberger had all kinds of time to throw the ball on the following play, eventually tossing up a ball for James Washington down the field who was well-covered. He hit Brown out of the slot for 49 yards, beating Dre Kirkpatrick across the field to make it first and 10 from the 14.
On first down, Roethlisberger looked for McDonald in the end zone, but Clayton Fejedelem broke it up. David DeCastro was flagged for being downfield anyway. On first and 15, Smith-Schuster got the penalty yardage back. James over the middle added eight, making it third and two. McDonald fumbled the football evading a tackler to try to get the first down on a screen, Smith-Schuster recovering, forcing Boswell to enter the field to make it 20-14. It could easily be 28-14, however, if not for poor red-zone execution on the past two drives.
With 3:32 to play, the defense has a six-point lead to protect against the home team, which has seven wins in the fourth quarter while trailing since the start of 2017. The first-down pass to Green was incomplete, Haden in coverage. Vince Williams made a good open-field tackle on Mixon to make it third and four. Uzomah made the catch over Sutton for five yards. Artie Burns was flagged for pass interference on the following play.
Now at the 50 with 2:25 to play, Williams was in coverage on Mixon down the field, incomplete. Boyd got in front of Sutton for a first down at the two-minute warning. Dalton’s following pass went out of bounds. Green was open down the middle for 23 to the 11.
A short completion to Green went to the four. On second and three, Mixon punched it in from four yards out to take a late least with 1:18 remaining. It’s up to Roethlisberger and his three timeouts to preserve a win and spare a loss to a critical division rival.
Switzer was held short of the 25 on his kick from a couple yards deep to open the final drive. The first play of the drive was a short catch to Smith-Schuster for eight yards. Justin Hunter was targeted deep but could not make the catch reaching back over the defender. On third and two, he did find Smith-Schuster, out of bounds.
From the 41, Roethlisberger threw into the ground at McDonald’s feet. He threw off his back foot, incomplete over the middle to Conner, on second down. Now third down, a defensive hold in the secondary spared an incomplete pass to Smith-Schuster.
With 22 seconds left, Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster for 22 yards over the middle, down to the 31. Brown motioned late behind Hunter and Roethlisberger hit him in space for the 31-yard touchdown to take a late lead with 10 seconds remaining. On the two-point attempt, a defensive hold in the end zone moved the ball to the one. On the second attempt, he hit Smith-Schuster for the conversion to make it a seven-point game, 28-21.