Steelers need Ohio sweep to stay on top AFC North

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The Steelers (9-3) put together one of its best overall games of the season and possibly its best offensive half to defeat their arch rival Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) 35-7 to stay on top of the AFC North and keep pace with the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens with the best record in the AFC.

This will be a short week for the Steelers, as they must take on division rival Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. Cleveland is the only team in the AFC North not battling for a playoff berth as they fell to 4-8 after losing to the Ravens last week 24-10.

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TIES FRANCO—Rashard Mendenhall (34) runs through the Bengals defense, Dec. 4. Mendenhall had 60 yards on 16 carries and 2 touchdowns tying Steelers legend Franco Harris for the most rushing touchdowns in his first four years with 28. (Courier Photo/Thomas Sabol)

The defense once again showed why they are one of the two best in the NFL, as they forced turnovers by the Bengals and took advantage of them all. They stopped the running game making Cedric Benson a non factor, which put more pressure on rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his crew of young receivers to make plays. But the defense responded by holding him in check as well. However the Steelers offense stole the show with a performance as good as it was bad last week versus the Kansas City Chiefs, putting 35 points on the board, 28 in the second quarter, their best performance since the 38-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

They were impressive in every phase of the game. Rashard Mendenhall had 60 yards on 16 carries and 2 touchdowns, while Isaac Redman gave them the tough hard fought yardage with 51 yards on 8 carries. This kept the defense honest and confused as Ben Roethlisberger probably had his best game, even though his numbers weren’t as impressive. He was 15 of 23 for 176 yards and three touchdowns. The difference was the team’s effectiveness in the red zone; scoring all four times they got there, with Mike Wallace joining Mendenhall in the fun with two also on just 3 catches for 38 yards. Antonio Brown not only had a good game as a receiver with 2 catches for 67 yards but scored his first touchdown as a punt returner as he jetted past Bengals defenders for a 60 yard touchdown that pretty much put the game away.

“The guys made plays,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said of his special teams. “We’ve gotten solid contributions from that group. They take a great deal of pride in what they do. They are a legitimate phase of our team, and we appreciate their efforts.”

Thrust into the role of contender, the Bengals wilted in the spotlight, reverting back to the kind of mistakes they’ve avoided while rebuilding on the fly behind the tandem of Andy Dalton and A. J. Green. Cincinnati committed 10 penalties for 109 yards and offered little resistance to lose for the third time in four games.

“They beat us in every area today—beat us on offense, beat us on defense, beat us in special teams,” Coach Marvin Lewis said after the game.

Roethlisberger, who aggravated his injured thumb in practice during the week, overcame a slow start to lead the Steelers to their best scoring quarter in his career with 28 points. His final completion, a 9-yard toss to tight end David Johnson in the fourth quarter, was the 2,026th of his career, breaking Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw’s club record.

Mendenhall tied Steelers legend Franco Harris for the most rushing touchdowns in his first four years in franchise history with 28.

Hines Ward became the 19th player in NFL history to eclipse 12,000 career yards while James Harrison joined Chad Brown and Mike Merriweather as the only players in team history to record at least two three-sack games in the same season. Ward needs just 10 catches to reach 1,000 for his career.

“It was great to get the win in our place,” said Tomlin.

It was a very necessary AFC North winning performance by our guys. I loved the energy of the group in all three phases.”

Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 204 yards on 29 carries, breaking loose on a game-changing 67-yarder in the third quarter, and the Ravens kept pace with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North by pounding Cleveland. Cleveland lost for the fifth time in six games, and the banged-up Browns have just three days to prepare for the Steelers.

The Steelers’ 8:20 p.m. game Thursday night will be shown on NFL Network and locally on KDKA.

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