The Pittsburgh Steelers spared themselves all sorts of infamy with their 24-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night in Cincinnati.
They won their first road game of the 2012 season. They avoided their first losing streak since their catastrophic five-game skid in 2009. They saved Mike Tomlin from falling two games under .500 for the first time in his six-year head coaching career.
The Steelers started off on the right foot with the AFC North portion of their schedule, and suddenly the Baltimore Ravens are in sight after their 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers (3-3) move into second place in the division with their win over the Bengals (3-4) and trail the first-place Ravens (5-2) by one-and-a-half games.
Pittsburgh has lots of time to catch Baltimore. On Sunday, the Steelers just needed to take a step in the right direction after a disappointing start.
The Steelers did that, and here’s a look at the players who helped them do it—and the players who didn’t.
It wasn't a perfect game by Ben Roethlisberger, but one of the reasons the Steelers beat the Bengals is because they had the better quarterback.
Roethlisberger threw an end-zone interception in the first half trying to get the ball to Heath Miller in double coverage. He also lost a fumble deep in Steelers territory, which led to a Bengals touchdown and a 14-3 Bengals lead in the second quarter.
However, Roethlisberger completed 27 of 37 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown. He helped convert the Steelers’ only takeaway of the game into points after a LaMarr Woodley interception gave the Steelers the ball at the Bengals 29.
Roethlisberger completed four of five passes on the drive, including a nine-yard TD strike to Miller. Another completion to Miller for the two-point conversion tied the score at 14-14 before halftime.
He went 5-for-5 for 54 yards on the game-winning touchdown drive, which culminated in Chris Rainey’s 11-yard TD run, giving the Steelers a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger cemented his status as a winner Sunday night with a pooch punt that pinned Cincinnati at its own 11 with less than six minutes left in the game. The Bengals went three-and-out and never saw the ball again.
It's hard to believe Mike Wallace caught eight passes for 52 yards in this game.
His four dropped passes are hard to ignore. Three of his drops came in the first half when the Steelers fell behind 14-3.
Wallace did have some key catches. With the Steelers trailing 17-14 in the third quarter, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for an eight-yard loss that dragged the Steelers back to the Bengals 36. On the next play, Wallace went eight yards on a screen from Roethlisberger and got the Steelers back into field goal range.
Shaun Suisham eventually kicked a 42-yard field goal to tie the score 17-17.
Wallace also made a diving catch for 11 yards with three minutes left on the Steelers’ game-clinching drive. The catch was upheld by replay, leaving the Bengals with just one timeout.
So Wallace didn’t have a bad game, it just could have been better if he held on to more passes.
The reigning team MVP played like it on Sunday.
Antonio Brown led the Steelers in receiving yardage with 96 on seven catches. Six of his seven catches came on Steelers scoring drives and six of his catches gave the Steelers a first down.
Brown even moved the sticks with a 13-yard run on an end around.
Brown's longest reception (23 yards) came on a 3rd-and-9 play on the game's opening drive. It moved the ball to the Bengals 25-yard line and Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead.
With the game tied 17-17, the Steelers faced 3rd-and-8 from their own 35 late in the third quarter. Brown caught a 16-yard pass to get the ball into Cincinnati territory. Four plays later, the Steelers had a 24-17 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Steelers committed two holding penalties on kick returns and two on punt returns Sunday.
Those infractions negated returns of 33 and 38 yards and two for 20 yards.
The players flagged were Stevenson Sylvester, Baron Batch, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Ike Taylor (pictured).
If it weren’t for holding on kick returns, the Steelers would have committed just one penalty for 10 yards.
Ike Taylor was beaten for an eight-yard touchdown pass on a quick slant to A.J. Green, but that was the only reception of the game for Green, who entered the game leading the NFL in receiving yards.
Green might have had another touchdown against Taylor when Andy Dalton threw to him from the Steelers 30-yard-line early in the third quarter, but corner Keenan Lewis tipped the ball away, and the Bengals had to settle for a field goal and a 17-14 lead.
That was one of two pass breakups by Lewis. Taylor wasn’t targeted much, which suggests he covered Green well. He broke up a third-down pass to Green in the fourth quarter, forcing the Bengals to punt.
No Bengal receiver had more than four catches, and Dalton threw for just 105 yards in the game.
Not only did Baron Batch hold on a kickoff return to force the Steelers to start from their own 10 after they had fallen behind 14-3, but he was a major reason they fell behind 14-3.
The second-year running back dropped what probably would have been a touchdown pass with the Steelers trailing 7-3 in the second quarter.
With the ball on the Bengals 29, Ben Roethlisberger lateraled to Antonio Brown, who threw a pass that went right through Batch’s hands. Two plays later, Roethlisberger threw an interception.
Batch had a chance to earn more carries at running back with Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman out, but he carried the ball just twice for four yards.
The failed pass from Antonio Brown to Baron Batch might not have worked, but several other daring play calls by the Steelers coaching staff did on Sunday night.
An end-around run by Brown helped spark the Steelers comeback from a 14-3 deficit. He went 13 yards to the Bengals 34-yard line to help set up Shaun Suisham’s 47-yard field goal that cut the Bengals lead to 14-6.
Mike Wallace got the Steelers into field-goal range with his 13-yard gain on an end around in the third quarter. The drive resulted in Suisham’s 42-yarder that tied the score 17-17.
The Steelers threw the book out the window after Heath Miller caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to pull to within 14-12 with 29 seconds left in the first half. Even though conventional wisdom dictates waiting until the fourth quarter before going for two-point conversions, the Steelers decided to try tying the score before halftime, and it worked.
Roethlisberger went to Miller again, floating a ball to the tight end on a fade route to tie the score 14-14.
The Steelers led 24-17 and faced 4th-and-11 from the Bengals 37 with 5:38 to go in the game. They weren’t about to send Suisham out to try a 54-yard field goal after what happened in Tennessee, but it looked like they were about to try something almost as stupid.
The offense lined up as if the Steelers were going to go for it, but instead Roethlisberger pooch-punted the ball to the Bengals 11. Cincinnati went three-and-out and the Steelers closed out the game from there.
Aside from the eight points he scored on two catches to tie the game late in the first half, Heath Miller also hauled in a 30-yard reception to move the ball to the Bengals 36 with just over six minutes left in the game, helping the Steelers put the game away.
Miller caught six passes for the second straight game. He’s fifth in the NFL among tight ends with 31 receptions for the season, according to NFL.com.
After allowing 49 rushing yards on nine carries on the Bengals’ first possession of the game, the Steelers yielded just 31 yards on 12 carries after that.
Ryan Clark again led the Steelers with five tackles and Lawrence Timmons added four.
Defensive linemen Ziggy Hood was victimized on a lot of the Bengals early running plays, but he finally got himself noticed with two tipped balls later in the game.
Filling in for injured Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer ran for 122 yards on 17 carries, better than seven yards a carry.
Dwyer racked up 72 of those yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter. He put an exclamation point on his night with a 32-yard run on third-and-7 from the Bengals 40 with 1:20 left in the game. The Steelers could take a knee after that.
The Steelers have blown fourth-quarter leads this season because of an inability to run the ball and milk the clock. Thanks to Dwyer, that wasn’t a problem Sunday.