Where would the Steelers be without Troy Polamalu?
Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley both returned interceptions for touchdowns, the only TDs the Steelers were able to score. The first quarter was rough for the Steelers; the offense was able to gain only 34 yards. But then an interception by safety Troy Polamalu with 4:37 left in the second half tied up the game 7-7. He returned the ball that was intended for Terrell Owens 45 yards and made an acrobatic, flying leap into the endzone.
Steelers fans were worried about how the team would play after such a huge, brutal game against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday night. They looked sluggish and hungover until Polamalu was able to intercept a ball thrown by his former USC roommate, Carson Palmer. It changed the tide of the game.
The Bengals looked hot on their opening possession, and penalties by the Steelers helped fuel that drive. On a 3rd-and-3, after an incomplete pass to Terrell Owens, LaMarr Woodley jumped offside, resulting in a first down. A pass interference call on Ike Taylor in the end zone got the Bengals to the 1, and a short touchdown pass to left tackle Andrew Whitworth gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
But the defense was able to not let Cincinnati score the rest of the game. When the Bengals were driving toward the end of the first quarter, a 24-yard dump pass to Cedric Benson got the Bengals to Steelers 27-yard line in field goal range. But Woodley sacked Palmer, Lawrence Timmons tackled Benson for a loss, and then and Ryan Clark broke up a pass for Jordan Shipley on third down, forcing the Bengals to punt the ball away.
During the Steelers last offensive drive of the first half, Antwaan Randle El, who has been mostly a non-factor as a #5 receiver, made a perfectly timed, leaping catch at the Bengals 22. Ben Roethlisberger's 13-yard run to the 5-yard line also helped set up a Shaun Suisham 23-yard field goal. The Steelers were up for the first time 10-7 after the first half.
The biggest news at the beginning of the second half was Roethlisberger was no longer wearing a visor to protect his surgically repaired nose so it wouldn't affect his vision. He had another blow to the head after Polamalu's interception when defensive end Michael Johnson hit him in the head after a sack. Yet another non-call, but moving on ...
At the start of the second half, the Steelers drove down the field, with big 23- and 21-yard passes to Hines Ward. But the offense again couldn't get into the end zone, and they had to settle for a 35-yard Shuisham field goal, extending the lead to 13-7. After a 3 and out by the Bengals on their next possession, the Steelers offense had the ball for the rest of the third quarter.
During that drive, the Steelers were inundated with penalties, with three offensive holding calls on three different players. Somehow, having to get 30 yards just to get a first down, Roethlisberger completed a 29-yard pass to Ward and kept the drive alive. But when the Steelers got all the way to the Bengals 15-yard line, Roethlisberger was sacked twice, losing 17 yards and forcing them to punt. That 9 1/2-minute drive produced no points.
With 12:27 left in the fourth quarter, once the Bengals got the ball back, Palmer immediately threw his second interception to Woodley, who ran it 14 yards for a touchdown, making the score 20-7. The Steelers hadn't had two interception return touchdowns in a game since 1998. The Bengals again couldn't do anything when they got the ball back, and on the next offensive drive by the Steelers, they still couldn't get into the endzone and settled for a 41-yard field goal, increasing the lead to 23-7.
At the end of the game, the Bengals were driving to score, thanks to a 4th and 3 conversion and a 12-yard pass to Chad Ochocinco as well as a 16-yard pass to Jordan Shipley. If the Bengals could score a touchdown and then try for an onside kick, they could have made things interesting. The offense drove to the Steelers 16, but Polamalu struck again! He intercepted at the 12 and returned for 12 yards, but then lateraled to Bryant McFadden all the way across the field. His one mistake of the game since he could've turned the ball over or gotten (even more) injured. He's helped the Steelers win the last three with major plays, so let's give him a break. He's amazing.
The Steelers are now 10-3 and in a very comfortable position in the playoff race. The poor Bengals are 2-11 and asking a lot of questions after winning the division last season. Currently the Steelers are one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens and are the #2 seed in the AFC. They face a tough rival, the New York Jets, next Sunday, but this win helps secure a shot at a seventh Lombardi trophy.