Forget about a 27-7 lead; the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals had to keep it exciting right to the very end. Gotta love AFC North games on national television.
The game started out great for the Steelers, and they began the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead. It looked like the game would be all Steelers even at the opening kickoff. Steelers rookie Emmanuel Sanders hit Bernard Scott, which caused a fumble, and another rookie Jason Worilds recovered at Cincinnati's 25 yard line. Running back Rashard Mendenhall scored with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Steelers an early 7-0 lead.
Special teams again came up big after the Bengals had to punt the ball away. William Gay blocked Kevin Huber's punt, so the Steelers took over at Cincinnati's 30. They weren't able to get into the redzone, so Jeff Reed kicked a 25-yard field goal.
With less than 8 minutes left in the first quarter, the Steelers were already up 10-0.
If all of that wasn't strange enough, Steelers receiver Hines Ward had a rare fumble a few minutes into the second quarter after a short 2-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger. Cornerback Leon Hall hit Ward and knocked the ball out, and it was recovered by safety Roy Williams. After just four plays, Carson Palmer and Terrell Owens connected for a 19-yard touchdown in the middle of the endzone, making the score 10-7.
On the next series, the Steelers went three and out. When the Bengals got the ball back, Palmer was intercepted by linebacker Lawrence Timmons at Pittsburgh's 48. Roethlisberger threw a huge 35-yard pass to receiver Mike Wallace, who fumbled out of bounds. The Bengals challenged the catch, but the call was confirmed.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger threw a low 8-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It was ruled a touchdown on the field, but super-high tech slow motion cameras made it look like Ward's knee was down before the ball crossed the goal line. For whatever reason, the Bengals didn't challenge, and it goes down as a TD in the record books, and the Steelers were up 17-7.
The Bengals got the ball back and Mike Nugent tried for a 51-yard field goal, but it went wide left, with 45 seconds left in the half. The Steelers capitalized on the good field position and Jeff Reed kicked a huge 53-yard field goal, which tied his career long, making the score 20-7 at the end of the first half. Whew.
The third quarter didn't start so well for the Steelers, with Roethlisberger getting sacked and going three and out. Even though the defense was able to sack Palmer, but they were able to drive down the field to attempt yet another 45-yard field goal.
Wide left. Again.
After a relatively unexciting third quarter, the Steelers had a brilliant play at the very end, with Ben handing receiver Antwaan Randle El the ball and him throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to Wallace. That gave the Steelers a 27-7 lead, and they never scored again.
In the very next Cincinnati possession, with help from a tripping penalty, Palmer passed to Owens three times, the last culminating in a 27-yard touchdown catch.
Just to keep Steelers fans on their toes, when Pittsburgh got the ball back, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Williams at Cincinnati's 49-yard line. For whatever reason, the defense's discipline was suddenly non-existent. Three consecutive penalties, including a pass interference call, gave the Bengals the ball at the 1-yard line. Of course the Bengals scored when they got the ball back with a touchdown run by Cedric Benson. For those whose heads aren't spinning quite yet, that made the score 27-21.
Mendenhall had a couple of brilliant runs (who racked up 99 yards on 22 carries) and set Reed up for a 46-yard field goal attempt. No big deal since he made a 53-yard field goal at the end of the first half, right?
Of course not. Wide left.
With 3:59 left and the Bengals needing a touchdown to win the game, it all rested on the shoulders of the Steelers defense. After watching them get schooled all quarter and Palmer figuring out their weak spots, it seemed the Bengals actually had a shot at closing up that 20-point deficit.
The Bengals got all the way down to the 12, but on fourth down, James Harrison and Ike Taylor managed to break up a pass intended for Jordan Shipley. Nice to see that the defense had the last say in this game after the score became so disturbingly close.
And the Steelers were able to win after a whole bunch of injuries. Fans everywhere had heart palpitations after brilliant rookie center Maurkice Pouncey left the game during the second quarter because of a right leg injury. He returned for the Steelers' last possession at the end of the first half and looked to be okay. But offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu wasn't and had to leave the game after injuring his right ankle with a right ankle injury. Even though left tackle Max Starks couldn't play during the first half, he was able to play when Pouncey was out. Starks was then replaced by Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky played center, but he was able to come back for the second half.
Also, defensive end Brett Keisel, who was great to have back after missing two games, wasn't able to finish either. The Steelers other defensive end, Aaron Smith, called "the heart and soul" of the defense, has been out and will be probably until the very end of the season.
Even with all the craziness on the offensive line front, Ben ended up completing 17 out of 27 for 163 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Palmer, on the other hand, went 22 for 36 for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Again the Steelers defense was able to contain the run, with Benson racking up only 54 yards on 18 carries and 1 TD. But Owens ended up with 10 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns, so clearly there are still issues with the secondary, though there's no doubt that Owens is an extremely talented receiver. Chad Ochocinco only had 1 catch for 15 yards.
Even though it was a close game and not the beating like most anticipated, the Steelers are 6-2 and tied with the Baltimore Ravens on top of the AFC North. The Bengals, however, are now 2-6, and their season is pretty much over. The Steelers face the New England Patriots Sunday night at home, which should be another entertaining yet heart attack-inducing game.
A final note on this crazy game: After being fined $100,000 this season, it was great to see James Harrison be part of the play that sealed the Steelers win, right in front of Roger Goodell's nose, who happened to be at the game. Harrison may be a polarizing athlete, but he's a brilliant linebacker who's fun to watch, and he played as if he had something to prove. It's always good Steelers football when the defense has the final say.