Steelers back atop AFC North heading into bye week

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The Steelers used three long drives to compile 21 points on their way to a 24-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to recapture first place in the AFC North after a Baltimore Ravens loss, going into their bye week. The defending AFC champs are 7-3, a half-game clear of the Bengals and Ravens.

After a crushing loss to the Ravens last week the Steelers had to beat the surprising Bengals (6-3) in order to stay in the playoff race, thinking the Ravens would easily defeat the lowly Seattle Seahawks. However, the Ravens lost 22-17, dropping into a second place tie with the Bengals.

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GAME CHANGER—Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood (96) celebrates after cornerback William Gay (22) intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter against the Bengals, Nov. 13, in Cincinnati. Running back Cedric Benson (32) kneels at right. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)

Rashard Mendenhall ran for two touchdowns, and the Steelers intercepted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton’s passes twice in the fourth quarter, holding on for a 24-17 victory.

Pittsburgh grabbed a needed win by putting together long, balanced drives while thousands of Steelers fans waved Terrible Towels in the first sellout crowd of the season at Paul Brown Stadium.

Dalton handled most of what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau threw at him. He had two more touchdown passes, giving him 14 overall — the most by a rookie quarterback in his first nine games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. But in the end, a Steelers defense that’s finally healthy and forcing turnovers got to him.

Pittsburgh came in with just two interceptions all season. But cornerback William Gay anticipated Dalton’s throw and stepped in front of Jerome Simpson for a clinching interception inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line with 2:27 left.

Ike Taylor had another outstanding game holding Cincinnati’s top receiver, A. J. Green to just one catch which was a 36 yard touchdown. With Hines Ward playing limited minutes, Antonio Brown had 5 catches for 86 yards and Mike Wallace 6 receptions for 54 yards. Jerricho Cotchery grabbed his first touchdown pass for the Steelers on a 16 yard pass. Ward only had one catch for 10 yards.

Ben Roethlisberger had a good game completing 21 of 33 passes for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The interception was actually on Heath Miller.

Once again the offense was impressive early but died in the second half. It was 17-10 at the half, with the Steelers not scoring in the fourth quarter.

The young Bengals did not give up after dropping behind 14-0 early in the first quarter but came back to tie it 17-17 in the third quarter, before the final drive capped off by a brilliant 9 yard Mendenhall touchdown run.

The defense was once again outstanding as they held the Bengals running game in check, Cedrick Benson had just 57 yards on 15 carries, and shut down the receivers with the exception of Andrew Hawkins who had 5 receptions for 56 yards.

Coach Mike Tomlin on the game after the game: “Good bounce back for us in many ways. Probably more than anything the sufficient plays from the defense particularly down the stretch to preserve the win in light of how we finished the game last week. We are excited about that. Largely as a team if we are going to be the kind of team we desire to be we’ve got to quickly get back on the winning side of things when we don’t do the job. That is what this game was about. Obviously it was an AFC North game on the road. All of those things are important. I liked the overall effort of all of the men. We had a few minor injuries and so forth in-game. I don’t think it’s going to be anything that could be problematic coming out of the bye.”

Coming out of the bye week the Steelers face the Kansas City Chiefs (4-5), the Bengals again, the Browns (3-6), the red hot San Francisco 49ers (8-1), the St. Louis Rams (2-7) and the Browns. The Bengals and Ravens will face each other in Baltimore this weekend.

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