Roethlisberger, showing uncommon poise for a rookie who wasn’t expected to play this season, twice rallied the Steelers (3-1) and Duce Staley ran for 123 yards in a 28-17 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals (1-3).
“You can just see him coming into his own,” wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. “He doesn’t let anything bother him, and that’s what I like about him.”
Roethlisberger went 17-of-25 for 174 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions to better Carson Palmer in a QB duel that may be repeated for years in the AFC North. Palmer drove the Bengals to touchdowns on their opening drive of each half, but ended the game with consecutive interceptions, giving him seven in four starts.
Palmer’s former Southern Cal roommate, Troy Polamalu, finished it off with a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. Jerome Bettis had given the Steelers a 21-17 lead with just over nine minutes remaining with his second short-range touchdown.
Already, some Bengals fans are questioning the decision to bench Jon Kitna, who threw 26 touchdown passes last season as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and play Palmer.
“I’m not concerned with what people say,” Palmer said. “I’m only worried about what the coaches and players think. I’m going about my business, trying to get better from week to week.”
Roethlisberger, replacing the injured Tommy Maddox, is the first Steelers rookie quarterback to win his first two starts since Mike Kruczek won nine in a row in place of the injured Terry Bradshaw in 1976. The difference is that Roethlisberger isn’t being supported by arguably the best defense in NFL history.
“He’s 2-0 and he’s only going to get better,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “He’s still a rookie and he still makes mistakes. Overall, he’s making more good plays than bad plays and I think he’s getting more comfortable.”
“I have not mastered this offense by any means,” Roethlisberger said. “But the thing is we got the victory. You lead the team when they need it the most, you go down the field and score.”
Palmer, who was 20-of-37 for 164 yards with two interceptions, showed why the Bengals drafted him No. 1 last year and why he still has some maturing to do.
Palmer went 4-for-4 for 37 yards on third downs on a drive ended by Rudi Johnson’s 2-yard touchdown run, giving Cincinnati a 17-14 lead early in the third. Johnson ran for 123 yards in his fifth career 100-yard game and first of the season.
But with the Bengals in position to beat a winning-record team on the road for the first time in 42 games, a streak that dates to a December 1990 victory in Pittsburgh, they couldn’t score again.
“We’ve got to get it together fast,” wide receiver Chad Johnson said. “We’re behind the 8-ball. We’re in a position we don’t want to be in.”
After the Bengals twice couldn’t score after advancing to at least the Pittsburgh 40, the Steelers drove 89 yards for Bettis’ go-ahead score. The key play was a 21-yard pass interference call on Tory James against Plaxico Burress, with TV replays appearing to show little contact by James.
“Tory was just playing the ball, and he has a right to the ball,” linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
The Bengals couldn’t hold a 7-0 lead after Staley’s first fumble led to Jeremi Johnson’s touchdown on a 2-yard pass midway through the first quarter— the Cincinnati offense’s first touchdown in 32 possessions over three games.
The Steelers, winning consecutive games for the first time since capturing their final three to close the 2002 regular season, quickly answered. Roethlisberger’s 30-yard completion to Burress set up Bettis’ 2-yard touchdown run, and Roethlisberger later found Verron Haynes on an 11-yard pass play for Haynes’ first career touchdown.
The Bengals played much of the game without cornerback Rashad Bauman and safety Rogers Beckett, both of whom left early with possible concussions. … The Bengals won seven of nine after starting 1-4 last year. … Chad Johnson, doubled-teamed most of the game, was held to four catches for 54 yards. .. Steelers coach Bill Cowher is 18-7 against Cincinnati. … The Steelers are 29-11 in October since 1994. … The Steelers’ Chris Gardocki punted five times in his 200th game, giving him 1,002 attempts without a block. … The Steelers’ James Farrior has three fumble recoveries in four games.