Sunday, December 4, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Steelers 35, Bengals 7
By Jamison Hensley
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers game:
What it means: The Steelers ambushed the Bengals to make this a two-team race for the AFC North title. At the very least, Pittsburgh (9-3) will remain tied with the Ravens atop the division and will take a one-game lead if Baltimore loses at Cleveland on Sunday. The Bengals (7-5) essentially fall three games back of the Steelers because of the season sweep, and would only lose hold of the No. 6 seed if the Broncos win. Cincinnati's previous four losses were by a total of 21 points.
"Special" victory: Pittsburgh rolled out to a 28-7 halftime lead with superior special-teams play. First-round pick Cameron Heyward blocked a Bengals field goal attempt on Cincinnati's opening drive. Stevenson Sylvester forced Brandon Tate to fumble on a kickoff return in the second quarter, which led to a touchdown. And Antonio Brown's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown -- he didn't get touched on the runback -- put the Steelers up by 21 points.
Harrison heating up: Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison recorded three sacks for the second time in four games. The Steelers needed Harrison to step up because LaMarr Woodley left in the first half after re-injuring his hamstring.
Roethlisberger rebounds: Coming off a season-low in passing yards last Sunday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 15 of 23 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 117.3, the fourth time it has surpassed 100 this season. The fractured right thumb doesn't seem to be a problem for Roethlisberger, who was allowed to rest for the final 10 minutes of the game because of the rout.
Flag day for Bengals: Cincinnati committed 10 penalties for 109 yards, and some of them were costly. A.J. Green's false start penalty took away a touchdown on the Bengals' opening drive, and a delay of game then negated a successful field goal. This looked like the Bengals from 2010, not 2011.
What's next: The Steelers have a quick turnaround, playing the last-place Browns on Thursday night at Heinz Field. The Bengals return home Sunday to face the Houston Texans, who lost their top two quarterbacks (Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart) to injuries in November.