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TDBH: Bengals clock Big Ben to eliminate Steelers, reach playoffs again

Posted Dec 22, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 23, 2012


PITTSBURGH — Even the Heinz Field clock knows the story. There are 14 seconds left in Sunday's play-in game for the playoffs. Matching the uniform number of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. From the Steelers 46 he needs about a dozen yards to get kicker Josh Brown close enough to try a field goal to break a 10-10 tie. Dalton does more than that. He zips a 21-yard rope on a corner route to wide receiver A.J. Green on time, on rhythm and on the money against the NFL's No. 1 defense for a Wild Card berth on a play that leads Green out of bounds with eight seconds left to set up Brown's 43-yard field goal, and put the AFC North firmly in transition with a 13-10 victory that eliminates the arch-rival Steelers and gives the Green-Dalton Bengals their second straight post-season berth. The namesakes of the Green-Dalton era do exactly what they have to do today and grab the game by the throat at the end as the Bengals win their sixth of the last seven. The resourceful Dalton wills his way to the biggest victory of his career with his lowest passer rating in a win (58.8) and like a savvy welterweight Green bobs and weaves between the ropes of the top-ranked Steelers defense for 10 catches and 116 split-decision yards. Mark it down. At age 25 Dalton has done what Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer never did in taking the Bengals to back-to-back play-off berths, and the only other man to do it, the first No. 14, Ken Anderson, was 33.

"We’ve been in the playoffs the first two years I’ve been in the league; not a lot of people can say that they’ve done that," says Dalton, the seventh quarterback to do it since the 1970 merger. "The history is that we haven’t been two years in a row for the last 30 years, but since I have been here I haven’t known that. My class, me, A.J., some of these other guys. We come in and we expect to get to the playoffs. We are in the right position at the end of the season. You want to be in position to control your own destiny, and we were able to do that this year. And now it’s time to really make a run at it." Left tackle Andrew Whitworth knows exactly what he has just seen after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's interception by safety Reggie Nelson on the previous snap gives Dalton another shot. "Look at it," Whitworth says. "Ben had a chance to get the winning field goal and they couldn't get it close enough and it missed. Then he threw the interception and when Andy had his chance, he made the play to A.J. to get close enough to win it. Head-to-head for the playoffs and Andy beat him. That's the kind of competitor he is."

Yet it is a defensive victory all the way. The Bengals hold the Steelers to 280 yards, shut them down on 12 of 14 third downs, and come up with Nelson’s interception with 14 seconds left at the Steelers 46. The Bengals also up their NFL-leading sack total with four, 2.5 coming from sack leader Geno Atkins, the NFL’s best tackle now sitting on 13.In a game matching two of the NFL's most respected defensive coordinators, Cincinnati's Mike Zimmer and Pittsburgh's Dick LeBeau scheme a classic AFC North slobbernocker that yields just six first downs on 29 third-down tries, four interceptions, 10 sacks, one touchdown, 109 rushing yards, and 547 total yards. After all those years LeBeau had NFL Defensive MVP types like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, Zimmer has this year's candidate in the monstrous Atkins .Atkins, the third-year Bengals tackle, delivers a game as big as his résumé and now has the most sacks by a Bengal since Eddie Edwards in 1983. If Green isn't this team's MVP, then Atkins is.  "It feels good," says the typically low-key Atkins. "It means a lot to come in here and win a game to get to the playoffs." "They are the No. 1 defense and Coach Zimmer told us last night the best defense is going to win this game, and we took it to heart," defensive tackle Domata Peko says. "You couldn't have written it any better than to come in here to Pittsburgh, our arch-rival, and to have to win to make the playoffs. And to fight through adversity and get this win. It's a great win for the city and for the organization."

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