PITTSBURGH — For all their precocious talent, the Cincinnati Bengals are still trying to figure out this “winning-in-December-and-beyond” thing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers provided another important lesson along the way for the burgeoning AFC North power: Be ready or be humbled.
Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score in a 64-second span in the first quarter and the Steelers overpowered the Bengals 30-20 last night.
Shaun Suisham added three field goals for the Steelers (6-8), who built a 24-point lead and hardly looked like a team playing out the string.
“It’s always great when you dictate the game and play ahead and not play catch up,” Brown said.
The victory kept Pittsburgh’s faint postseason hopes alive even if simply avoiding the franchise’p p p p p p p p s first losing season in a decade is a considerably more attainable goal.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Groveport graduate Le’Veon Bell added 117 yards of total offense to help the Steelers snap a two-game losing streak.
Andy Dalton completed 25 of 44 for 230 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but Cincinnati (9-5) never recovered after getting staggered early at frigid Heinz Field.
“We didn’t make anything happen,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “We didn’t make any plays, create any opportunities.”
Looking to move closer to a third straight playoff appearance and perhaps grab the inside track on the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Bengals were undone by a series of miscues on special teams and an offense that didn’t get going until it was much too late.
“It’s tough, for sure, because we had everything in front of us,” Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green said.
Bell scored two plays after Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber dropped a snap while standing near the goal line on the Bengals’ first possession. Pittsburgh’s Will Allen dropped Huber at the 1 and Bell bulled into the end zone on second down for his sixth touchdown of the season.
Cincinnati had more issues on the ensuing kickoff.
Officials ruled Cedric Peerman called for a fair catch at the Cincinnati 9, wiping out a lengthy return. The Bengals eventually punted, setting up the Steelers with a short field. Pittsburgh went 47 yards in eight plays, with Roethlisberger buying enough time for Brown to get open for a 12-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-0.
Brown’s early work wasn’t done. Cincinnati punted yet again and Brown took it 67 yards right up the middle for Pittsburgh’s third touchdown of the quarter.
Huber took a hard hit from Pittsburgh’s Terence Garvin during the return. The punter was down on the field for several minutes before walking straight to the locker room with a fractured jaw.
Pittsburgh extended its lead to 24-0 before the Bengals steadied themselves with a 47-yard touchdown drive capped by Giovani Bernard’s 1-yard run. The Steelers responded late in the half with Suisham’s 45-yard field goal by to give them their biggest halftime lead of the season.
Suisham’s third field goal pushed Pittsburgh’s advantage to 30-7 before the Bengals responded with Dalton’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert.