Final

Steelers 31

(11-5, 6-2 away)

Bengals 17

(11-5, 5-3 home)

4:30 PM ET, January 8, 2006

 

1 2 3 4 T
PIT 0 14 14 331
CIN 10 7 0 017

Top Performers

Passing: B. Roethlisberger (PIT) - 208 YDS, 3 TD

Rushing: R. Johnson (CIN) - 13 CAR, 56 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: C. Wilson (PIT) - 3 REC, 104 YDS, 1 TD

Without Palmer, Bengals struggle, fall to Steelers

CINCINNATI (ESPN.com news services) -- Carson Palmer stood his ground and held the ball an extra second, waiting for rookie Chris Henry to run past a defender and get open.

It was over when ...
Troy Polamalu intercepted Jon Kitna with 4½ minutes to go in the game and the Steelers leading 31-17.
Game ball goes to ...
Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was calm and efficient Sunday, going 14-of-19 for 208 yards and 3 TDs against 0 INTs.

That one second changed everything.

Steelers nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen dived at Palmer on his first pass Sunday, hitting Palmer at the knee and knocking the Pro Bowl quarterback out of the game with two torn ligaments.

Pittsburgh took advantage of his absence, harassing backup Jon Kitna and rolling to a 31-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that set up a rematch with the AFC's top team.

The Steelers (12-5) will play in Indianapolis next Sunday, a chance to show how far they've come in the past month. Pittsburgh lost at the RCA Dome 26-7 on Nov. 28, when coach Bill Cowher started the second half with a failed onside kick that seemed to be a sign of desperation.

"We're the underdogs going into their place," said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes. "Now we get to see what we can do."

Defending Super Bowl champion New England will play in Denver on Saturday night.

The Bengals (11-6) will spend an offseason reliving the play that effectively scuttled their first playoff appearance in 15 years -- and could have a longer-lasting impact. Palmer tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee, injuries that require surgery and months of tough rehabilitation.

However, medical personnel have said that because both ligament injuries were "clean tears," recovery is expected to be somewhat less problematic than in some past torn ligament cases regarding athletes.

Palmer is expected to undergo surgery to repair the two ligaments in the coming days.

"I was really upset," receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "Not because of the fact we lost him. He's young and he's got to go through so much now tearing his knee. It's just sad for that to happen. He was playing great."

The Bengals were initially angered and inspired by the injury, but the emotion lasted only so long. They faded during the third quarter, when they started bungling and the Steelers acted like they'd been to the playoffs before.

"We had that letdown, we didn't get that (second-half) field goal and it kind of deflated us," said Kitna, who took over for Palmer and spent most of his time scrambling. "We never recovered from that."

Pittsburgh was in jeopardy of not making the playoffs after a 38-31 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field effectively gave Cincinnati the AFC North title. The Steelers won their last four to get in as a wild card.

In his second playoff go-round, Roethlisberger was coolly efficient -- 14-of-19 for 208 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, a vast improvement over his shaky rookie postseason.

"Last year, everything was new to Ben," said receiver Hines Ward, who had a 5-yard touchdown catch. "Tonight, he was pretty crisp. The intangibles that he brings, I like a lot."

The crowd of 65,870 erupted, then went sickeningly silent on the Bengals' first pass play -- one that went down as the longest in Cincinnati playoff history, and the costliest.

Palmer held onto the ball long enough to let Henry beat a defender down the right sideline for a 66-yard catch. As the ball left Palmer's hand, a falling von Oelhoffen's shoulder drove into the quarterback's left knee.

"I knew right away that it was bad," said Palmer, who was on crutches after the game. "I felt my whole knee pop. I didn't feel a lot of pain. It was just a sickening feeling because I knew what it was and that my season was over."

Even though Palmer wears a protective brace, his knee bowed inward as it was hit. He had to be taken off on a cart.

"You watch it happen, my thoughts and prayers go out to Carson," Roethlisberger said. "You could see Kimo was stumbling going down. He's not that kind of player. Carson's a great player. Any time you lose a great player like him, it's devastating."

Several Bengals yelled at von Oelhoffen, who spent his first six seasons in Cincinnati and still counts some of the Bengals as friends.

"Guys were infuriated," right tackle Willie Anderson said. "But I know him. He's not a dirty player. His momentum just kept him going into Carson. It wasn't a dirty play."

The nose tackle explained himself on the field.

"They had every right to be upset. They lost their best player," he said. "I hope Carson gets better. My apologies to him and his family.

"I was worried about Carson. That kid deserved to play this game."

Now, it was up to Palmer's mentor to get it done. He couldn't.

Kitna led the Bengals to an 8-8 finish in coach Marvin Lewis' first season, then took a back seat to Palmer the last two seasons. He played sparingly this season and was understandably rusty in a 37-3 loss to Kansas City last week.

Kitna, one of only 13 Bengals with playoff experience, finished 24-of-40 for 197 yards with two interceptions and four sacks. He kept the Bengals in it until their inexperience and lack of a Pro Bowl quarterback started to show in the third quarter.

First, the Bengals botched a field goal attempt because of a high snap. Then, Kitna knocked the ball out of his own hand while scrambling, scuttling a drive. Finally, a shanked 30-yard punt -- something out of the old Bungles days -- put the Steelers in position to take control.

Three plays later, they used a little sleight-of-snap to do just that.

Antwaan Randle El took a direct snap in front of Roethlisberger, ran to his right, turned and threw the ball back to the quarterback. Cedrick Wilson was 10 yards beyond the confused coverage for his 43-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers up 28-17.

That was it.

Game Notes
Ward has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last five playoff games. ... Pittsburgh has won seven of its last nine against Cincinnati and 10 of its last 13. The Steelers have won their last five games at Paul Brown Stadium. ... It was the Steelers' first road win in the playoffs since 1989. They had been 0-3 on the road under Cowher. Overall, they're 9-9 in the playoffs under their head coach. ... Henry hurt his right knee on the long pass, then aggravated it a few plays later and had to be helped off the field. He was on crutches in the second half.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
PIT
CIN
1st Downs1919
Passing 1st downs
813
Rushing 1st downs
94
1st downs from penalties
22
3rd down efficiency
6-119-16
4th down efficiency
0-00-1
Total Plays5665
Total Yards346327
Yards per play6.25.0
Total Drives1210
Passing202243
Comp-Att
14-2125-41
Yards per pass
9.25.4
Interceptions thrown
02
Sacks-Yards Lost
1-64-20
Rushing14484
Rushing Attempts
3420
Yards per rush
4.24.2
Red Zone (Made-Att)0-50-3
Penalties6-397-90
Turnovers02
Fumbles lost
00
Interceptions thrown
02
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00
Possession28:5731:03

Passing Leaders

PITC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Roethlisberger14/1920810.9301-6
Bettis0/100.0000-0
CINC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Kitna24/401974.9124-20
Palmer1/16666.0000-0

Rushing Leaders

PITCARYDSAVGTDLG
Bettis10525.2125
Haynes34615.3026
CINCARYDSAVGTDLG
Johnson13564.3120
Kitna4256.3012

Receiving Leaders

PITRECYDSAVGTDLG
Wilson310434.7154
Parker34113.7119
CINRECYDSAVGTDLG
Walter57314.6024
Henry16666.0066

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERPITCIN
cinFG6:58Shayne Graham 15 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 9 plays, 84 yds, 4:21
03
cinTD1:17Rudi Johnson, 20 yd run (Shayne Graham kick is good)
Drive info: 7 plays, 76 yds, 3:18
010
SECOND QUARTERPITCIN
pitTD13:18Willie Parker, 19 yd pass from Ben Roethlisberger (Jeff Reed kick is good)
Drive info: 8 plays, 55 yds, 12:16
710
cinTD6:18T.J. Houshmandzadeh, 7 yd pass from Jon Kitna (Shayne Graham kick is good)
Drive info: 17 plays, 57 yds, 6:46
717
pitTD3:52Hines Ward, 5 yd pass from Ben Roethlisberger (Jeff Reed kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, -923 yds, 2:16
1417
THIRD QUARTERPITCIN
pitTD5:17Jerome Bettis, 5 yd run (Jeff Reed kick is good)
Drive info: 9 plays, 66 yds, 4:34
2117
FOURTH QUARTERPITCIN
pitTD1:23Ben Roethlisberger, 43 yd run (Jeff Reed kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 50 yds, 1:15
2817
FOURTH QUARTERPITCIN
pitFG10:32Jeff Reed 13 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 6 plays, 37 yds, 2:53
3117