Pittsburgh Steelers Post Historic Rout of AFC North Rival Cincinnati Bengals

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Pittsburgh Steelers Post Historic Rout of AFC North Rival Cincinnati Bengals
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Brett Keisel and the Steelers kept pace with the Ravens Sunday in the AFC North.

The Pittsburgh Steelers pounded the Cincinnati Bengals so thoroughly Sunday that CBS had plenty of time for tight shots of sad Bengals faces in the fourth quarter.

How sweet was that?

It's not something we've seen a lot lately. The Steelers 35-7 win over the Bengals was their most one-sided victory of the season and tied the biggest margin of victory in the all-time series between these AFC North rivals.

Those carefree moments in the fourth quarter made it easy to forget that this game wasn't without suspense. This rare, historic rout for the Steelers didn't just come out of a genie bottle. They had to construct it beam by beam.

The groundbreaking for this monument to the Steelers' superiority over the Bengals came when  Cameron Heyward told the Bengals to talk to the hand. The rookie blocked Mike Nugent's 33-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter.

Speaking of hands, "One for the Thumb" has taken on a new meaning in Pittsburgh, like raising a glass to the health of the one attached to Ben Roethlisberger's right hand.

A 45-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown put the ball on the Bengals 15, ended the first quarter and sparked the Steelers 28-point second quarter, their highest-scoring quarter since 1959.

After that throw, however, Roethlisberger talked to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the sideline and made The Face.

The Face is a grimace, which Steelers fans have seen so many times that Roethlisberger should be nicknamed "The Grimace," no furry purple suit required.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Ben Roethlisberger completed 15 of 23 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.

In this case, The Face hinted that Roethlisberger felt something in his thumb after that throw to Brown. We can't say for sure, but while it was nice to see the Steelers jump out to a 21-0 lead, it was a little concerning that Roethlisberger threw the ball only twice during that stretch. When he handed off, he often appeared to pull his hand away as if he touched a pan that was too hot.

If Roethlisberger's thumb did need a break from throwing, it's a good thing the Steelers were moving the ball on the ground Sunday.

Rashard Mendenhall again couldn't crack the four-yards-per-carry barrier, running for 60 yards on 16 carries, but he did score the game's first two touchdowns. As usual, the Steelers got a little more bang for their buck from Isaac Redman, who added 51 yards on eight carries.

After Mendenhall gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead, Roethlisberger put the thumb worries to rest (for now) with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, making it 21-0.

The Steelers forced the first of two Bengals turnovers to set up that touchdown. Emmanuel Sanders recovered a fumble on a kickoff return.

Later in the game, ham-handed Ike Taylor proved that lightning can strike twice when he made his second interception in two games. The Steelers have 12 takeaways this season, eight in the last three games.

We weren't laughing about it then, but the Steelers' turnover futility is far enough in the past for us to look back and laugh.

It wasn't funny, though, when the aging Steelers defense took its mid-afternoon nap Sunday and let the Bengals get on the scoreboard with a 10-play, 80-yard drive.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Rashard Mendenhall boosted the Steelers' red zone efficiency Sunday.

At 21-7, the game started to take on the feel of last year's AFC championship game, when the Steelers jumped out to a big first-half lead over a worthy opponent, then made the second half scarier than it had to be.

Fortunately, the Steelers defense arose from its siesta Sunday and forced a three-and-out, setting up Antonio Brown's 60-yard touchdown on a punt return and a 28-7 lead.

The Bengals were reduced to milk-sipping kittens after that, although there was this matter of LaMarr Woodley tweaking his hamstring.

Woodley's hamstring, Roethlisberger's thumb and Troy Polamalu's head will be the most talked-about body parts in Pittsburgh, even more than Rudolph's red nose, as the Steelers fight to win the AFC North.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers were erring on the side of caution, and Woodley might play Thursday against the Browns.

How about sitting Woodley Thursday?

Not to take the Browns lightly, but the Steelers can win games without Woodley. If they want to raise that seventh Lombardi Trophy, however, they're going to need their top pass rusher. If they let him rest Thursday, he'll have 15 days off until the Steelers game in San Francisco Dec. 19.

While Woodley's hamstring is a worry for the Steelers (9-3), at least the Bengals (7-5) no longer are. All the Steelers have to do is win two of their last four to ensure the Bengals won't catch them in the AFC North.

The Ravens? That's a different story. If the Steelers want to avoid playing on wild-card weekend, they just have to keep winning.

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