The Steelers took another big step on Sunday towards making the playoffs and keeping their hopes alive to capture the AFC North division as the soundly defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 35-7 at Heinz Field. The win moves the Steelers to 9-3 on the season and the Bengals now drop to 7-5 on the season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for two more scores in the win. Wide receiver Antonio Brown also added a 60 yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, the first return touchdown of his young career.
Roethlisberger was 15 of 23 for the day passing and spread the ball around to 7 different Steelers players. He was sacked only 2 times on the afternoon and did not turn the ball over. Veteran receiver Hines Ward led the Steelers in receptions with 5 and his 30 yards receiving enabled him to pass the 12,000 yard receiving mark for his career as he became just the 19th player to reach that plateau. Roethlisberger also now holds the Steelers record for career-completions, as he passed the 2,025 career completions mark of Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
The special teams units played a huge part in the Steelers win today as rookie Cameron Heyward blocked a 33 yard field goal attempt from Bengals kicker Mike Nugent on the Bengals opening drive and rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen were in on several return tackles. Stevenson Sylvester also got in on the special teams action as he forced a fumble on a kickoff return by Brandon Tate that was recovered by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers scored 4 plays later as Mendenhall took in from 5 yards out for his second score of the quarter. Punter Jeremy Kapinos chipped in 5 kicks that resulted in a 43.4 net average, and of course Brown added the return for the score.
The Steelers defense also had a part in the win as linebacker James Harrison sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton 3 times and the rest of the defense pressured Dalton most of the afternoon. Cornerback Ike Taylor also recorded his second interception of the year by picking off Bengals backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski in the 4th quarter after Gradkowski replaced the ineffective Dalton. That makes two straight games that Taylor has recorded an interception after picking off Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko last Sunday night. Taylor also chipped in 7 total tackles in the game as did linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Safety Ryan Clark led the Steelers defense with 8 total tackles.
Left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley returned to the Steelers starting lineup today after a 3 game absence due to a hamstring injury suffered against the Patriots. Woodley however had to leave the game early after he felt the hamstring get fatigued on him and he did not return. Head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that he did not think Woodley did any damage today to the hamstring and he did not rule him out from playing Thursday night against the Browns.
The Steelers offense capitalized on their redzone opportunities this week as they scored touchdowns on all four trips inside the Bengals 20 yard line. Last Sunday night against the Chiefs they were 1-3 inside the redzone. The offensive line played very well against the Bengals and they were lead by the play of left guard Doug Legursky. Legursky had several crushing blocks on counter lead type plays that resulted in a few big runs. Right guard Ramon Foster also had a nice game going before having to leave with a left ankle injury early in the second half. Foster did not return to the game and will likely be doubtful Thursday night against the Browns. Trai Essex replaced Foster at left tackle for the rest of the game.
The Steelers now have a quick turnaround as they will host the Browns Thursday night. Tomlin will have another press conference Monday at noon eastern and will likely update the other bumps and bruises suffered in the game today, as only Foster and Woodley were mentioned by name in his post game press conference.
I will have my complete observations from the game up later tonight after I go through the game a second time. Stay tuned for that.