Steelers hold on for 24-17 win over BengalsBy JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer Monday, Nov 14, 2011
CINCINNATI (AP)—A pair of fourth-quarter interceptions got Pittsburgh back on familiar ground heading into a much-needed bye week.
The Steelers’ slowly healing defense is starting to get turnovers again, a trend they expect to continue. And the defending AFC champs are back in first place again.
“I think we’re getting by,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) said. “We’re doing enough things offensively and defensively to win, but I still don’t think we’re playing to our full potential. So as long as we’re winning games, that’s all that matters. Hopefully when we do hit it full-stride and we’re actually playing really well, then who knows where we’ll go.”
They’re already at the top.
Pittsburgh (7-3) moved back into first place in the AFC North when Baltimore lost in Seattle later Sunday, leaving the Ravens and Bengals tied at 6-3. Cincinnati goes to Baltimore next Sunday, with the winner moving into a first-place tie with idle Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have managed to stay near the top despite injuries to their defense, particularly at linebacker. LaMarr Woodley(notes) missed his second consecutive game on Sunday. James Harrison(notes) and James Farrior(notes) also have missed time, forcing a repeated shuffle at the spot. Safety Troy Polamalu(notes) played despite sore ribs that kept him out of practice all week.
With so many playmakers hurt, the Steelers had gotten only four turnovers— two fumbles, two interceptions—heading into Sunday’s game. Dalton managed to avoid the costly mistake until it mattered most.
“We’re a great defense because of the way we play,” safety Ryan Clark(notes) said. “Turnovers tend to come in spurts. That’s what separates teams from being a great defense. Today, we were able to help us win it.”
Roethlisberger led long, balanced drives while thousands of Steelers fans waved Terrible Towels amid the first sellout crowd of the season at Paul Brown Stadium. Mendenhall’s 9-yard run put the Steelers’ up 24-17 late in the third quarter, leaving it to the defense to finish it off.
First, linebacker Lawrence Timmons(notes) picked off a deflected pass, ending a drive at the Pittsburgh 33. Gay then pulled off the clincher, stepping in front of Jerome Simpson(notes) for an interception at the 19-yard line with 2:27 left.
“It was two big plays that helped change the game,” Farrior said. “It was awesome. I’m especially proud of William Gay. You guys and even some of our fans really got on him this week.”
Wasn’t going to happen again.
Dalton handled most of what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau threw at him until the end. He had two more touchdown passes, giving him 14 overall— the most by a rookie quarterback in his first nine games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He wasn’t sacked even though the Steelers blitzed him every way they could.
“I felt like we had a really good grasp on what they were doing,” said Dalton, who was 15 of 30 for 170 yards. “Even with all the movements and shifts that they were doing, I still thought we had a good feel.”
Until the fourth quarter.
Dalton didn’t have top receiver A.J. Green(notes) on the field for those pivotal moments. Green, who leads all rookie NFL receivers, twisted his right knee when he landed awkwardly on a 36-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Green returned on the next series but was held out as a precaution after halftime.
“I just came down straight-legged and my knee buckled,” Green said. “I think at halftime when I came in and sat down, it got real stiff. I couldn’t really get any movement.”
The Bengals suffered another significant injury late in the first half when cornerback Leon Hall(notes) hurt his left Achilles tendon. He was on crutches after the game and went for tests that indicated a tear, which will likely land him on a season-ending injury list.
Roethlisberger was 21 of 33 for 245 yards with one touchdown and a deflected interception. He was sacked five times, matching his season high.
NOTES: Pittsburgh has won eight of its last nine in Cincinnati. … Roethlisberger is 7-1 in his career in Cincinnati. … Mike Tomlin got his 50th regular-season victory, joining former Steelers coaches Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Raymond “Buddy” Parker in that category. … Dalton has thrown for 1,866 yards, passing Greg Cook for the franchise record by a rookie.