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Steelers hang on to beat Bengals 27-21

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The Steelers turned a fumble, a blocked punt and an interception into points before barely holding on for a 27-21 victory over Cincinnati. The Pittsburgh defense came up with a big stop with 34 seconds left, allowing the Steelers to keep pace with Baltimore atop the AFC North.

Steelers 27 – Bengals 21

Pittsburgh survived a scare on Monday Night Football as Cincinnati nearly erased a 20-point deficit in the second half, despite a big night from Mike Wallace and some big-play trickery from Antwaan Randle El. A punishing hit by James Harrison forced a Bengals incompletion on fourth down, saving the game for the Steelers.

GAME FLOW

Pittsburgh’s rookies shined on the first play of the game as WR Emmanuel Sanders forced a fumble on the opening kickoff, which was recovered by LB Jason Worilds. The Steelers offense wasted no time, pushing their way to the one-yard line leading to a TD plunge by RB Rashard Mendenhall. The Bengals committed their second of many special teams blunders on the night a few plays later as CB William Gay blocked a Cincinnati punt to set up a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, giving Pittsburgh a quick 10-0 lead. The game was quiet until the second quarter when the Steelers were subjected to a nightmare of a drive. Both LG Chris Kemoeatu and rookie C Maurkice Pouncey left the field with injuries (though Pouncey returned later in the game) before a Hines Ward fumble gave the ball to the Cincinnati offense. Carson Palmer took advantage, finding WR Terrell Owens in the endzone for a 19-yard touchdown. After a Pittsburgh three-and-out, the Bengals looked to have all the momentum, but the scales tipped back in Pittsburgh’s favor thanks to an interception by LB Lawrence Timmons. Six plays later, QB Ben Roethlisberger found WR Hines Ward for an eight-yard touchdown, putting the Steelers back up by 10 points. Jeff Reed added a career-record-tying 53-yard field goal late in the half, giving his team a 20-7 halftime lead on the road.

Neither offense managed to move the ball in a scoreless third quarter, though Cincinnati squandered a chance at some points thanks to a missed field goal. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh looked like it sealed a win thanks to an old Steelers standby. WR Antwaan Randle El took the ball on a reverse and immediately looked downfield before hitting WR Mike Wallace for a 39-yard touchdown and a 27-7 lead. The Bengals, and specifically receiver Terrell Owens, weren't about to go quietly though. A few plays later, Palmer and T.O. hooked up again on a 27-yard touchdown pass. Not long after that, a Roethlisberger interception gave the ball back to the Bengals. Some costly penalties by Pittsburgh’s defense set the offense up at the one-yard line, giving RB Cedric Benson an easy touchdown, bringing the Bengals within six points. On the ensuing drive, Pittsburgh leaned on its running game, feeding Mendenhall on all seven plays before coming up empty thanks to a missed field goal by Reed. Cincinnati took over on one final drive and moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 12-yard line, but on fourth-and-five, with the game in the balance, LB James Harrison crushed WR Jordan Shipley on a pass reception, dislodging the ball which fell harmlessly to the turf, allowing Pittsburgh to escape Ohio with a 27-21 win.

OFFENSE

On the ground:
As usual, Rashard Mendenhall was the workhorse, carrying the ball 22 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. Nearly half of those yards came on the team’s final offensive possession, as Mendenhall saw seven straight carries with the team attempting to run time off the clock. Roethlisberger chipped in a 12-yard scramble on a third-and-five. Isaac Redman failed to convert his only third-down rush of the game.

Through the air: It was a relatively quiet day for Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 17 of his 27 passes for 163 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The passing game received a boost thanks to the multi-talented Antwaan Randle El, who threw a 39-yard touchdown pass on a trick play. Mike Wallace was the beneficiary of that throw and finished with five catches for 110 yards. RB Rashard Mendenhall, TE Heath Miller, and WR Hines Ward all had three catches apiece with Ward adding a touchdown (and one fumble).

DEFENSE

The defense allowed only seven points in the first half, but surrendered twice as many points during a late fourth-quarter surge by Cincinnati. Pittsburgh allowed only 54 yards to the Bengals on the ground and 218 yards through the air. LB LaMarr Woodley contributed two sacks, with LBs James Harrison and James Farrior registering one apiece. Farrior also led the team in tackles with nine. LB Lawrence Timmons registered the team’s only interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rookie WR Emmanuel Sanders forced a fumble in kickoff coverage which was recovered by fellow-rookie Jason Worilds. CB William Gay blocked Cincinnati’s first punt attempt. Jeff Reed hit field goals of 25 and 53 yards (tying his career-record), but missed on a late attempt of 46 yards. Daniel Sepulveda averaged only 40.6 yards on five punts, but downed two within the 20-yard line. Sanders handled all return duties and averaged 22 yards on four kickoff returns.

GAME BALL

WR Mike Wallace showed that he is ready to be a complete receiver, hauling in five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown (on the pass from fellow-receiver Randle El). Wallace was solid over the middle most of the evening as well.

NEXT UP

Pittsburgh completes its primetime trifecta as they return home to host the New England Patriots on Sunday night. New England sits a 6-2 on the season and is coming off a 34-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The game will be on NBC with kickoff set at 8:20 PM.

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