By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves on the very verge of playoff elimination as they take the field tonight against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals. With the Miami Dolphins winning, the Steelers are one loss away from officially unofficially beginning their extended offseason.
The Steelers won the coin toss and received the ball, with the opening kickoff going for a touchback. They began in the 11 personnel on first down, going five wide. Ben Roethlisberger threw a screen to Le’Veon Bell for five yards, and a personal foul added an additional 15.
Now on the 40, Bell carried the ball for four yards. A bubble screen to Antonio Brown went for a first down after the receiver broke a tackle. After carries of four and two yards, a wide toss to Bell was stopped well short of the first down and the Steelers were forced to punt across midfield.
After a punt fair caught on the six, Andy Dalton found A.J. Green on first down for nine yards. On second down, Troy Polamalu was hit in the back on a quick screen. The Steelers were able to stop the running back on third and short. The Bengals bobbled the snap on the punt, and Will Allen was there to tackle the punter at the one-yard line.
On first down, Bell was held up just short of the goal line. With Heath Miller at fullback on second down, Bell found the end zone for the touchdown behind Matt Spaeth and Marcus Gilbert.
Cedric Peerman returned the opening kickoff to the 45 after the score, but it was waived. After an incompletion on first down, Dalton kept the ball to run for nine yards. This time, the Bengals were able to get the first down. Soon though, the Bengals were facing third and long, and Ziggy Hood got the sack off a pick play with Cameron Heyward.
The Steelers took over across midfield after the punt and return. On first down, Bell took a short pass for a first down after a spin move. After the first down, Roethlisberger hung a pass short to Miller, who had to go to the ground to bring it in for four yards.
On second and six, Bell was wrapped up for no gain. Gilbert stayed down after the play. Emmanuel Sanders was stopped on a shovel pass, but the Steelers went for it on fourth down. Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket and found Bell for the first down.
On the very next play, the offensive line gave Roethlisberger plenty of time, which allowed him the time to find Brown in the middle of the end zone between defenders for the touchdown, and the 14-0 lead.
Al Woods wrapped up BenJarvus Green-Ellis for no gain on first down, making the start in place of Steve McLendon. On second down, Dalton was forced to throw the ball away. On third and long, the Steelers brought the pressure, leveling Dalton after the pass. Meanwhile, Ike Taylor broke up the pass for an incompletion to force yet another punt.
As with the first punt, it ended in disaster for the Bengals. This time, Brown returned the punt for his first return touchdown of the season. The Steelers lead 21-0.
Cortez Allen made a strong tackle on Green on first down, while Lawrence Timmons threw down the back on second down. On third and three, Timmons broke up the pass intended for Giovani Bernard, but he was flagged for holding before the deflection.
Taylor broke up a first down pass. On second and 15 after a false start, Dalton was under heavy pressure and did all he could just to get the pass out. On third and 15, William Gay tackled Green just a yard short of the first down. Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling of a completed pass and won. Gay did a superb job of ripping at the ball as he brought Green down.
After another punt—this time by the kicker—Saners took a screen pass for a big gain after breaking a tackle with a spin move. Now across midfield, Roethlisberger fired to Sanders again, but he bobbled the ball and was tackled for a short loss.
Roethlisberger found Sanders once again, this time for a first down. Five wide on the next play, Roethlisberger connected with Miller for nine yards. From the 24, Bell picked up eight yards up the middle. Roethlisberger connected with Brown at the five-yard line to set up first and goal. After an incompletion and then a loss of one, a pass for Jerricho Cotchery was broken up in the middle of the end zone on a risky throw. The Steelers settled for a field goal and a 24-0 lead.
The Steelers gave up a long return to Ben Tate, setting the Bengals up across midfield. On first down, Dalton found Green for a first down across the 30. Another reception by Green earned another first down. Dalton looked for Green in the end zone, but the pass was out of bounds.
On second down, Bernard carried for a short gain to set up third and five. A shovel pass to Bernard came up just short. The Bengals though, of course, went for it, and converted on a quarterback keeper. Bernard punched it in on his second try to get the Bengals on the scoreboard, 24-7.
Felix Jones was able to find some room for a 12-yard gain on second down on the Steelers’ ensuing drive, spelling Bell. He picked up another four on the next play. Roethlisberger found Miller for the first down on second down. Jonathan Dwyer punched the ball through the middle of the line for five yards himself. On second down, Dwyer took a wide toss for a gain of about 10.
Now from the 32, Jones came back in and picked up four yards on first down. A second effort mustered up just one yard on second down. On third down and five, a pass to Brown was too tall for the receiver on the quick throw. Shaun Suisham was sent back out to make his second field goal of the game to extend the lead to 27-7.
After a touchback, Dalton’s first pass was incomplete out of bounds. He made a run for it for four yards before Jason Worilds brought him down to set up third and six. Mohamed Sanu picked up the first down one play later with 27 seconds remaining in the half. After a timeout, Bernard took a short pass about eight yards to end the half.