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Steelers-Bengals: What we learned

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- The odds of Pittsburgh reaching the postseason remain slim, but the Steelers looked like a playoff team for three quarters Sunday night.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown scored two first-quarter touchdowns, including one on a 67-yard punt return, as the Steelers took a big early lead and held on for a 30-20 victory over the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.

The Steelers (6-8) snapped a two-game losing streak and kept alive their long-shot playoff dream.

"I've been saying for a number of weeks now that there is no quit in this football team, and we showed it tonight," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We played well in all three phases of the game and beat the best team in our division."

The Bengals (9-5) saw their three-game winning streak end. They will have to wait at least one more week to clinch a third consecutive playoff berth.

"I figure if we're not going to win the AFC North, at least beat the team that is ruling the division and try to make it interesting," Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said.

While the Steelers played well, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was disappointed by how his team played.

"We didn't make anything happen," he said. "We didn't make any plays, create any opportunities early in the football game. We really made it hard on ourselves."

If the Bengals had won, they could have won the division title on Monday night if the Baltimore Ravens lost or tied against the Detroit Lions.

"Anytime we lose, it's a squandered opportunity," Lewis said. "All we can control is us, and that's all I keep telling out our guys. Just worry about us. Tonight, we didn't take care of us."

Roethlisberger was an efficient 20-for-25 for 191 yards and one touchdown. However, his team-record streak of 207 consecutive passes without an interception ended in the third quarter when he was picked off by cornerback Adam Jones.

Roethlisberger broke his single-season team completion record, raising his total to 340. He completed 337 passes in 2009. Roethlisberger also improved his career record against the Bengals to 15-6.

Brown had five catches for 66 yards, giving him 95 receptions for the season. He has two games left in his bid to break the team record of 112 set by Hines Ward in 2012.

Kicker Shaun Suisham booted three field goals for the Steelers, including one from 26 yards in the third quarter that pushed the lead to 30-7.

"It's a good AFC North win for us at home," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Really, it was kind of a team victory. I thought we rode the wave that the special teams provided there early on in the first half of the game, but it was just largely a really good effort by a lot of people against what is obviously a very good team."

Quarterback Andy Dalton threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns passes in an attempt to rally the Bengals, a 1-yarder to tight end Tyler Eifert in the opening minute and a 13-yarder to wide receiver Marvin Jones with 5:46 remaining.

Jones' touchdown drew the Bengals within 10 points, but Pittsburgh linebacker Jarvis Jones batted down a pass on a two-point conversion try that would have made it a one-score game.

The Bengals got the ball back one more time but turned the ball over on downs at their 38-yard line with 2:36 left.

Dalton finished with 230 yards passing, completing 25 of 44 attempts with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green had nine receptions for 93 yards.

What the Steelers said

"It was a great feeling to play from ahead for a change. It's always great when you can dictate the game, play ahead and not have to play catch-up." -- Wide receiver Antonio Brown.

What the Bengals said

"It happens like that sometimes. This is the NFL. Some days you are going to feel like it's going your way. Some days, you're not." -- Wide receiver A.J. Green.

What we learned about the Steelers

1. Ike Taylor is one of the few cornerbacks who can keep Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green in check. Green had nine receptions for 93 yards but did not score and did have a catch longer than 19 yards. In the teams' first meeting in September, Green's longest reception was 10 yards.

2. Wide receiver Antonio Brown still returns punts -- even though the Steelers prefer he didn't -- because he is dangerous. He ran a punt back 67 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter to put the Steelers ahead 21-0.

Brown, who is averaging 12.9 yards a return this season, posted his third career touchdown on a return. He ran back a kickoff for a score as a rookie in 2010, and he took a punt all the way in 2011.

What we learned about the Bengals

1. The Bengals are not capable of overcoming a nightmare game from punter Kevin Huber.

Huber set up the Steelers' first touchdown when he dropped a snap on the 1-yard line. Later in the first quarter, he suffered a broken jaw on Antonio Brown's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown later, getting injured when he was wiped out on a bone-crushing block from linebacker Terence Garvin.

Kicker Mike Nugent took over punting duties, and he averaged 40 yards on two attempts. However, the botched snap and the punt-return touchdown helped Pittsburgh claim a 21-0 lead, and Cincinnati never fully recovered.

2. Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison isn't making much of an impact for the Bengals this season. Harrison left the game late in the first quarter with a concussion, and he did not return. Signed as a free agent in the offseason after spending the first nine years of his career with the Steelers, he has just 30 tackles, two sacks and one interception through 14 games.
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