The one Bengals wide receiver that did step up in A.J. Green's absence was the tiniest as 5-7, 180-pound rookie Andrew Hawkins led the club with a career-high five catches for 56 yards. Which is exactly what he had for the season coming into Sunday as special teams ace and spot receiver.
The man called "Baby Hawk" took flight with Green still healthy with 2:20 left in the first quarter and the Bengals desperately trying to pick up their first first down of the game on third-and-five from their 26 and down 14-0.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden took the Steelers by surprise when he deployed Hawkins in a set with Green, wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, and tight end Jermaine Gresham. With Hawkins matched on Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, he beat him on a corner route, but with Dalton under the gun Hawkins had to stretch out to make a diving 25-yard grab.
The play sparked the Bengals. It led to Green's touchdown two minutes later, a Leon Hall interception a minute after that, and when the dust cleared the Bengals were alive, down just 14-10.
"It was a new look we had with an empty set and the Steelers probably weren't prepared for it," Hawkins said. "Andy with pressure threw a great ball and I was able to track it down. Nothing to go crazy about."
But apparently the Steelers DBs were. Former Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, Andrew's brother who helped coach the Pittsburgh secondary at this past training camp as an intern, stopped by the Steelers locker room after the game and found them raving about Andrew's speed.
"I knew the Bengals put in a package for him this week and it would be a problem if the Steelers played it a certain way and put Troy on him," Artrell Hawkins said. "It's matchup you look at on paper and say 'Troy Polamalu vs. Andrew Hawkins.' But people in football know Troy is a safety and Andrew is a 5-7, 180-pound Speedy Gonzalez and it's a mismatch. And Troy did a good job with some tackles."
The Steelers told Artrell that Polamalu went to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and urged him, "Get us out of this fire zone (blitz) and give me something I can sit on," because of Hawkins's speed. Then when Green went down, that package was gone because Hawkins had to go to the slot while Caldwell went to the outside.
It was another big day for one of the Bengals' best stories. Three years ago Hawkins was caddying, sleeping on someone's couch, and helping coach the Toledo wide receivers. On Sunday, Polamalu sent him spinning out of bounds with a Pro Bowl submarine hit that held him to a yard.
"That's Troy Polamalu. Nothing I wasn't expecting. I've been watching him play forever," Hawkins said. "That was a good hit. That surprised me. Usually I don't have my legs taken out. It always surprises me because they usually try to hit me up high. I'm a short guy. He brings it. He's no-holds barred."
When Andrew got cut by the Rams in training camp, Artrell told the Steelers about him but nothing happened as the Bengals jumped on him.
"No big deal. Artrell has told everyone about me. I've been told no by everybody at least once," he said. "I just keep playing."
Hawkins, the Johnstown, Pa., native, shrugged after making a mark on his hometown team.
"We lost," he said.