NFL Nation: Bengals-Steelers 111509

Bengals' D leads sweep of Steelers

November, 15, 2009

AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Bengals tried to make their case as the best defense in the AFC North by sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times.

PITTSBURGH -- The high-powered offense of the Cincinnati Bengals didn't get into the end zone Sunday.

Cedric Benson, one of the NFL’s top tailbacks, sat out the entire second half with a hip injury.

Two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer was average and, at times, shaky.

Yet the Bengals still became the new kings of the AFC North with an 18-12 upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Chalk it up to Cincinnati's dominant yet underrated defense, which carried the Bengals for all four quarters against the defending Super Bowl champions.

For one of the first times at Heinz Field, the best defense on the grass Sunday wasn't wearing black and gold. Cincinnati’s unit in orange and black was all over the field harassing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times, had an interception and often saw his receivers covered well downfield.

"They’re playing like the best defense in the league," said Palmer, who had only 178 passing yards. "They believe that, and they’re also producing numbers like that too."

Just as the rest of league has come to the realization that the first-place Bengals (7-2) are for real, the same has to be said of their defense.

This is not a one-dimensional team. Cincinnati is strong in many areas, and Sunday that included solid kicking from Shayne Graham (four field goals) and a 96-yard kickoff return from Bernard Scott.

Pittsburgh, which had a five-game winning streak ended, had only 226 yards of total offense. The Steelers (6-3) were stopped on 12 of 15 third-down conversions and were held without a touchdown in four trips to the red zone.

The Bengals didn't accomplish much offensively either, but it didn't matter.

"We knew it was going to be that kind of a game and that the best defense would win this game," Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. "That's all [Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer] talked about."

At least for this season, it is time to put Cincinnati's defense in the same category as the defenses of the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

In fact, when the Bengals played head-to-head against the Ravens and Steelers this season, it was Cincinnati's unit that stood out by making a majority of the key plays.

"They’ve been the cornerstones of the league the last few years," Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of the Ravens and Steelers. "They’ve been going back and forth No. 1 and No. 2 as the top-ranked defenses in this league ... We want to make our presence felt as well."

Thanks in large part to the performance of the defense, the Bengals swept Baltimore and Pittsburgh in four games this season to become the new bullies of the AFC North.

"It’s an amazing feeling to be able to go into our division and do that to two big-time teams," Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. "It’s like we’re playing baseball. You’re not supposed to sweep people in football. It’s hard, but it's been exciting."

In a huge game for both teams, the Bengals remained a couple steps ahead of Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati's defense dictated the pace of the game by controlling the line of scrimmage.

Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall, who entered the game red hot, was held to 36 yards on 13 carries (2.8 yard average). The Bengals sacked Roethlisberger four times, including two by defensive end Jonathan Fanene. Fellow defensive end Frostee Rucker had the only interception of the game on a deflection in the third quarter.

Pittsburgh got a majority of its yards through the air, particularly with receiver Santonio Holmes (seven catches, 88 yards). But every time the Steelers strung together several good plays, Cincinnati’s defense would make a big stop to end the drive or force a field goal to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Just as the front seven stuffed the running game, Cincinnati's secondary did a great job against Holmes, Hines Ward (four catches, 24 yards) and rookie receiver Mike Wallace (one catch, 16 yards). Bengals cornerbacks Joseph and Leon Hall were once again outstanding as they continue to develop into one of the league’s best tandems.

"After dealing with me for such a long time, they’re probably the best two in the league right now," Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco said.

Cincinnati made its biggest statement of the season by sweeping Pittsburgh, but the seasons for both of these teams are far from over. Expect a lot of jockeying for playoff positioning in the final seven games.

As with most quality AFC North teams, the Bengals and Steelers are versatile and both have the potential to make a lot of noise in the postseason if they can keep things together.

"We'll probably see them again in the playoffs," Crocker nodded.

Bengals-Steelers III in January for all the marbles?

Now that would be interesting.

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 18, Steelers 12

November, 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH -- The Cincinnati Bengals are officially the new rulers of the AFC North.

In a feat that was thought to be far-fetched before the season, the Bengals swept the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday in an 18-12 upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. With an additional two-game sweep over the Baltimore Ravens and a win over the Cleveland Browns, there is no doubt the Bengals are the new bullies of the division for 2009.

So what's next for the Steelers and Bengals?

Both Pittsburgh (6-3) and Cincinnati (7-2) look to be playoff-bound, but will spend the final seven games battling for postseason position. The Bengals have the inside track to secure a home playoff game and possibly more. Pittsburgh now falls essentially two games behind Cincinnati and drops into the crowded AFC wild-card field with a host of other teams.

Another thing to watch is the key injuries suffered in this physical game.

The Bengals lost starting tailback and leading rusher Cedric Benson to a hip injury in the first half, and he didn’t return. Pittsburgh lost safety Troy Polamalu, who re-injured his left knee in the first quarter. Polamalu missed four games with the injury early in the season.

But in the end, it was another huge statement for Cincinnati, which continues to silence its doubters.

Bengals' RB Benson out

November, 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH -- The major injuries continue to pile up between the Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers.

The latest just announced in the third quarter is that Bengals tailback Cedric Benson will not return to the game. Benson injured his hip in the second quarter, and at the time his return was listed as "probable."

Pittsburgh is already without safety Troy Polamalu, who re-injured his knee in the first quarter. Several other players on both teams have been banged up and in and out of the game.

The Bengals are up, 12-9, in a physical slugfest.

Bengals-Steelers halftime notes

November, 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH—The Steelers lead the Cincinnati Bengals, 9-6, at halftime of Sunday’s game.

Here are some first-half observations:
  • This has been an odd first half, particularly on special teams. Not only did Bengals rookie Bernard Scott get a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but Cincinnati also missed an extra point and a field goal attempt. There hasn’t been any kind of flow to the game from either team. Both defenses have played well.
  • Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer looks a little wild today. He’s missed at least three or four open receivers in the first half, and most of those throws have been high. It doesn’t appear the wind is swirling much in Heinz Field Sunday, but several balls are just sailing on Palmer.
  • I’m still not sure at what point Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu re-injured his left knee. It had to take place during the first drive, because a long period followed when Pittsburgh’s offense went on its first scoring drive, then the Bengals had their kickoff return for a score. Now the question becomes how serious is the injury?
  • This is a physical game as players on both sides are getting beat up. For the Bengals, tailback Cedric Benson banged up his hip in the second quarter and cornerback Leon Hall was in and out during the first half. For Pittsburgh, rookie Keenan Lewis hurt his rib in addition to Polamalu.

Polamalu hurts knee, return doubtful

November, 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH -- Here is a quick injury note to pass on: Steelers safety Troy Polamalu re-tweaked his left knee and his return is doubtful.

It is not known when Polamalu injured his knee.

We will keep you up to date when details become available.

Bengals' Scott breaks through

November, 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH -- Bernard Scott just made the biggest play of his rookie season.

In a huge game, Scott responded to a Jeff Reed field goal by running back the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The Bengals failed to convert on the extra point. Cincinnati leads 6-3.

The Steelers and Bengals both came out firing.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s key 15-yard quarterback sneak on third down led to its field goal. Roethlisberger completed three of his first four passes.

The Bengals also came out flinging it as six of the first seven plays were passes and helped lead them in scoring position. But the drive stalled late in led to a 51-yard field goal attempt by Bengals kicker Shayne Graham that bounced off the goal post.