Antonio Brown scored two pivotal touchdowns in the first quarter which enabled the Pittsburgh Steelers to pummel the favored Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) 30-20 at Heinz Field. This win gives the Steelers a 6-8 record and more hope in obtaining a wild-card berth in the playoffs which begin in 19 days.
There are ten teams in the AFC who are in playoff contention and Pittsburgh is one of those teams. But the Steelers MUST win their remaining two games to have a shot at securing a playoff berth, which includes a season finale tussle with the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
Meanwhile, the Steelers didn’t win this game just off the back of Brown (5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown) because there were assorted players who stepped up in this game on both sides of the ball including: fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders (5 catches for 38 yards), strong safety Troy Polamalu (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble and some aggressive defensive play), corner back Ike Taylor (5 tackles and solid coverage on Bengals receivers all night), pass blocking from left tackle Kelvin Beachum, and many others.
In a sign that this was going to be the Steelers’ night, Bengals punter Kevin Huber mishandled long snapper Clark Harris’s snap then in mere seconds Steeler safety Will Allen gobbled up the indecisive punter at the CIN 1 yard line. That 15 yard tackle for loss by Allen set up a Le’Veon Bell (24 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown) 1 yard touchdown run to the right side to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
Later in the first quarter, the Steelers kept their second scoring drive alive when Ben Roethlisberger (20 of 25 for 191 yards, 1 touchdown pass and 1 interception) completed a 4th and 4 pass to Bell who caught the pass then navigated forward down the right sideline to the CIN 15. That play set up a Roethlisberger 12 yard scoring pass to Brown that gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead with just 2:16 left in the quarter.
On the Bengals’ ensuing drive, Taylor ended it with a 3rd and 9 quick reaction and legal bump of A.J. Green who dropped the pass and his concentration due to the cornerback’s presence. That drive killing play set up an untouched 67 yard punt return for a touchdown by Brown, in which the return specialist was never touched as he streaked up the seam for an easy touchdown. That was Pittsburgh’s first punt return for a score since Brown turned the trick in 2011. The score was now 21-0 with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Sanders turned in his best work of the night which took place on his team’s next scoring drive. On a 21 yard reception early in the quarter, Sanders caught a Roethlisberger pass then sped up field where he broke then spun out of an attempted tackle, with him finally racing down the right sideline to the CIN 46. He caught 4 passes for 30 yards on this drive. Sanders’ deeds eventually set up a successful Shaun Suisham field goal from 25 yards out to give the Steelers a 24-0 lead with 9:36 left in the first half.
Later in the second quarter, the Bengals received a very helpful 52 yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate down the left sideline and all the way to the PIT 47 yard line where he was ushered out of bounds by Steelers backup cornerback Antwon Blake. This drive was kept alive because of a 1 yard Andy Dalton (25 of 44 for 230 yards, 2 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions) run up the middle to the PIT 1 yard line on 4th and inches. Dalton’s run set up a 1 yard dive into the end zone by Giovani Bernard to make the score 24-7 Pittsburgh with 5:14 left in the first half.
The Bengals showed they had a pulse because in the 4th quarter, Dalton threw a 1 yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert near the right corner of the end zone versus semi-close coverage from free safety Ryan Clark. That play put the score at 30-14 Pittsburgh with 14:10 left in the game.
Then later in the quarter, Dalton on 4th and 5 from the PIT 13, fired a 13 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Marvin Jones who was itching to get in the end zone all night. That Jones score scared the Steelers a little as the scoreboard read 30-20 with 5:46 left in the game.
But eventually that Jones score would be just a threat. Because the Steelers used successive pass breakups by defensive backs Cortez Allen and Polamalu on the Bengals last offensive drive of the game, as well as 4 carries for 11 yards by running back Jonathan Dwyer on the Steelers’ last offensive drive of the game to salt away the game clock.
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