Steelers hang on late as Bengals drop the ball
Pittsburgh defense rises up once again
CINCINNATI — At the end of a night full of foibles, tricks, and missed opportunities, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned to their one constant to finish it off.
That unyielding defense came through again.
James Harrison and Ryan Clark stripped the ball away from Jordan Shipley near the 5-yard line on Cincinnati’s final play, preserving a 27-21 victory over the Bengals last night that left the AFC North with a familiar, old look.
The Steelers (6-2) are again at the top, sharing the top spot with Baltimore. The defending-champion Bengals (2-6) are in last place after their fifth straight loss, coming up one completion short.
Credit that last rib-jolting hit — legal all-around — by the Steelers’ on-the-spot defenders.
“The defense held strong,’’ said Ben Roethlisberger, who was 17 of 27 for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception that helped the Bengals rally at the end.
“This is how the Steelers play ball,’’ Pittsburgh defensive back Ike Taylor said. “We might get a blowout here and there. But we’re always in tough, close ballgames.
Pittsburgh seemed to be in control when Antwaan Randle El threw a 39-yard touchdown pass off a trick play to open the fourth quarter, building a 27-7 lead made possible by the Bengals’ many mistakes. Pittsburgh also had points set up by a fumble, a blocked punt, and a missed field goal.
Then, the Steelers turned sloppy on their own. Roethlisberger threw an interception that set up Terrell Owens’s second touchdown catch of the game, and Jeff Reed missed a 46-yard field goal try that would have clinched it with 3:59 to go.
The drama had just begun.
Palmer led the Bengals downfield with the help of a wacky play. His pass to Cedric Benson was tipped, but the running back made a juggling catch for a 16-yard gain on third-and-long. Chad Ochocinco’s only catch of the game moved it to the 12-yard line.
On fourth-and-5, Palmer found Shipley open over the middle in first-down range, but the two Steelers converged and squeezed the ball out to end it.
It was fitting Harrison had a shoulder in the final play. He got his third fine of the season, this one pushing the total to $100,000, for a hit last week on the Saints’ Drew Brees. The linebacker got summoned to commissioner Roger Goodell’s office for a meeting.
Goodell was at the game, watching as the Harrison-led defense got the best of the Ohio River rivalry, one the Bengals swept last season.
The Steelers won the coin toss and deferred. Bernard Scott got the kickoff and fumbled at the Cincinnati 25. Pittsburgh needed only four plays to score, with Rashard Mendenhall pushing the final yard for a 7-0 lead.
When Scott held onto the ball as he was tackled during the ensuing kickoff, some Bengals fans gave a derisive cheer. They were incredulous moments later when William Gay burst through the middle of the line for Pittsburgh’s first blocked punt in two years.
Reed’s 25-yard field goal made it 10-0, just like that.