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Steelers don't shrink from big moment in pivotal win over Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Ben Roethlisberger surveyed the defense and told himself not to believe what the Cincinnati Bengals were showing.

That is why the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback stuck with the pass play that offensive coordinator Todd Haley called even though he had the option of changing it to a run.

And it was exactly the kind of derring-do that coach Mike Tomlin wanted to see from his quarterback, even with the Steelers backed up on their own 6-yard line at a critical juncture of the AFC North game.

“We just were not going to live in our fears today,” Tomlin said. “We needed to be aggressive and create some splash. It worked out for us.”

Did it ever.

Martavis Bryant blew past Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, and Roethlisberger hit the rookie wide receiver in stride for the longest play (94 yards) in a game that was full of them.

The second-longest pass play in Steelers history propelled Pittsburgh to the 42-21 win that only added intrigue to the most compelling division in the NFL.

It came after punter Kevin Huber pinned the Steelers inside their 10-yard line with just under nine minutes left to play in a 28-21 game.

Bryant, who had gone from rookie sensation to just plain rookie in the Steelers’ previous two games, caught Hall looking for the run, and he ran a simple go route. Strong safety George Iloka had strayed too far to the middle of the field to do anything but join Hall in a futile chase of Bryant.

“I knew it was coming,” Bryant said with a grin. “It was just a perfect call.”

Tomlin called it “Football 101.”

“[Defenses] are usually aggressive when you’re backed up and they want to keep you backed up,” Tomlin said after the win that allowed the Steelers to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens and put them percentage points behind the Bengals in the AFC North. “Opportunities are usually there. It’s more about whether you are willing to take the risk.”

Roethlisberger took the risk even after the Bengals cornerbacks played off the Steelers receivers and their safeties stayed back before the snap.

Roethlisberger called Cincinnati’s bluff, and after a play-action fake that left Hall flat-footed and moved Iloka too far out of position for the strong safety to provide any help, Bryant made the easy catch-and-run that defined their offensive explosion after a scoreless first quarter.

“I didn’t quite believe that the safety was not going to come down [in run support],” Roethlisberger said. “Either I got lucky or saw something right.”

There were plenty of smiles in the Steelers’ locker room after their most impressive road win of the season. There was some sandbagging, too.

Antonio Brown, who had yet another 100-yard receiving game, was asked how teams know that the ball is going to him and running back Le'Veon Bell and can’t stop either, and the two-time Pro Bowler smiled.

“Luck,” he said.

The Bengals know better.

They also can attest that if the Steelers’ other skill players take advantage of their opportunities, as Bryant did with an exclamation point, that Pittsburgh’s offense could be the difference in a division that is a three-team race with three weeks to play.

“They get the headlines and do a lot for us,” Tomlin said of Brown and Bell, “but the other guys step up and answer the bell when their number is called. That creates a level playing field for Brown and Bell to both continue doing what they need to do.”