NFL Nation: Steelers-Bengals 092709

Bengals earn contender status

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
10:13
PM ET
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Quarterback Carson Palmer confidently led the Bengals to a critical victory over the Steelers.

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


CINCINNATI -- The postgame atmosphere at Paul Brown Stadium was buzzing Sunday night.

There were smiles, screaming fans, numerous high fives, and yes, plenty of “Who Dey!” chants.

It is cool to be a Cincinnati Bengal again.
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Much of the pain from nearly two decades filled with losing and heartache was washed away for Cincinnati on Sunday when the Bengals pulled off a thrilling, 23-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The joy permeated throughout the Bengals’ locker room. Players who talked for months -- whether it was on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” or through the media -- about believing in the team finally put together tangible evidence on the field.

Cincinnati overcame an 11-point deficit to the usually efficient Steelers in the fourth quarter. With Pittsburgh’s long history of closing out games and the Bengals’ history of losing, the outlook was bleak for the home team.

But these aren’t your father’s Bengals.

Heck, these aren’t even your older sibling’s Bengals from a year or two ago.

Cincinnati outclassed Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter with 14 unanswered points to pull off the nail-biter and place themselves among the early contenders in the AFC. In the past seven days, the Bengals (2-1) have taken hard-fought victories over the Steelers and Green Bay Packers.

“If you can’t see how much heart we have, you got to be blind,” Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. “They were winning by a lot, and to see how we just kept on fighting to get the win.

“This is big. These are the steps that we’ve been trying to take to get over that hump.”

The Bengals finally climbed “Mt. Pittsburgh” and ended several longstanding streaks.

Pittsburgh’s string of eight straight victories in Cincinnati: Gone.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s undefeated record in the state of Ohio: Kaput.

Pittsburgh’s undefeated run through the AFC North that started last season also came to an end, thanks to the upstart Bengals.

“Priceless!” Cincinnati offensive guard Bobbie Williams said of the victory.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer put together one of the biggest scoring drives of his career during the final five minutes. He led the Bengals 71 yards in 16 plays, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown throw to receiver Andre Caldwell in the final seconds.

According to receiver Chad Ochocinco, Palmer had a Joe Montana moment from Super Bowl XXIII. Before the first play of the series and down five points, the quarterback told his offense in the huddle that the Bengals were going for a two-point conversion “when we score.”

“And we were nowhere near the goal line,” Ochocinco said of Palmer’s confident gesture.

Palmer’s confidence showed as he completed seven passes for 59 yards on the final drive. He also converted two fourth-down situations that could’ve ended the game in Pittsburgh’s favor. The second fourth-down conversion came on an 11-yard reception by running back Brian Leonard on fourth-and-10 with 36 seconds left in the game. The Bengals scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

It was the type of clutch performance that has eluded the Bengals in the past, particularly against division rival Pittsburgh.

“The Bengals of old would have laid down,” Ochocinco said. “We would have been rattled.”

On the other sideline, the Steelers now face some serious questions after uncharacteristically blowing back-to-back fourth-quarter leads to Cincinnati and the Chicago Bears.

Is the inability to close out games a product Pittsburgh missing one of its top players, Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu? Or is there something bigger contributing to the Steelers’ surprising 1-2 start?

Things were going well for the defending champs Sunday until the second half. Roethlisberger threw a pick-six to get Cincinnati back in the game. Receiver Limas Sweed also dropped a potential touchdown catch and kicker Jeff Reed missed his third field goal in two games.

All of these lapses proved costly in a closely contested division game.

“We have some work to do,” a disappointed Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “We need to finish football games better. That’s the mark of a champion, and that’s not us at this point.”

It’s early. But through three weeks the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) are the class of the AFC North through September and the surprising Bengals -- not the Steelers -- find themselves only one game behind.

“If not for that fluke play against the Denver Broncos, who knows?” Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers said.

That’s an interesting thought to say the least.

And after Sunday’s marquee win, the Bengals are an interesting team to look out for in 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


CINCINNATI -- Bengals outside linebacker Rey Maualuga hurt his left knee and went into the tunnel Sunday, but he eventually returned to the game.

Maualuga hurt himself during Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown run that gave the Steelers a 20-9 lead with three minute remaining in the third quarter. But the linebacker played the first defensive series in the fourth quarter.

Bengals defense lineman Tank Johnson also hurt his right foot in the game and is doubtful to return. Cornerback Leon Hall hurt his left knee and his return is questionable.

We have a game in Cincy

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
6:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


CINCINNATI -- Now it’s getting very interesting between the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cincinnati’s defense made a big play to start the second half, which has narrowed Pittsburgh’s lead to 13-9. Bengals starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph recorded a pick off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and took it back for a 30-yard touchdown.

Long snapper Brad St. Louis had a high snap that thwarted the extra point attempt. He also had a bad snap in the season opener against the Denver Broncos.

The Steelers began the second half sloppy. Receiver Limas Sweed was unable to hold onto a potential touchdown catch, and kicker Jeff Reed missed a 52-yard field goal attempt wide left.

After Pittsburgh jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, the Bengals are showing a lot of fight to answer with nine straight points at home.

Steelers-Bengals halftime notes

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
5:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the Cincinnati Bengals, 13-3, at intermission.

Here are some first-half notes:
  • The Steelers did a good job of quieting the raucous home crowd in Paul Brown Stadium with a dominant first quarter. Pittsburgh led 10-0 after the first period as the offense sustained drives with 152 yards, and the defense held Cincinnati to minus-10 yards. The Bengals didn’t get their initial first down until early in the second quarter, where the home crowd gave the team a sarcastic round of applause.
  • Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin made a curious choice to go for it on fourth down at the end of the half, which ended up giving Cincinnati good field position. The Bengals turned the short field into a 34-yard field goal by Shayne Graham to cut the lead to 10 points after two quarters.
  • I'm really impressed so far with Pittsburgh tailback Willie Parker. As a speedy back, he felt that the turf in Cincinnati would help him this week, and Parker does look faster than the previous two games. Parker has 72 yards rushing and a 27-yard touchdown catch. Pittsburgh showed a few signs of turning the running game around in Week 2 and has looked dramatically improved in that area thus far.
  • There’s also a couple interesting notes regarding receivers in this game. Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco had three receptions in the first half and has notched a catch in 108 consecutive games. Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward (three catches, 61 yards) also became the first Steelers player to eclipse 10,000 receiving yards in his career.

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