Bengals Defense Standing Up To Steelers

181230-Williams-Shawn-TD (AP)
Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) takes an interception of a pass by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) to the end zone for a touchdown in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH - The Bengals defense, enduring its toughest year of the franchise's 51 seasons, pitched a beauty in the first half when they held the Steelers' fourth-ranked offense scoreless until the half-time gun as they took a 10-3 half-time lead in Sunday's finale.

When Randy Bullock kicked a 49-yard field goal into the open end of Heinz Field to give the Bengals a 10-0 lead with 2:12 left in the first half, the Steelers had just 92 yards with only 27 on the ground.

In quarterback Jeff Driskel's crispest passing day yet, he found wide receiver Alex Erickson for career-high five catches and 53 yards, most on Bullock's field-goal drive on short slants over the middle. Driskel finished the half seven of 12 for 69 yards.

But that drive was short-circuited on right guard Alex Redmond's unnecessary roughness penalty and after Bullock's kick went through, Redmond was called for another one and basically gave the Steelers rookie Matt McCrane's 37-yard field goal because the penalty was accessed on the kickoff and the Steelers got the ball at their own 45.

It was an ironic way for the Bengals defense to set the league record for most points allowed in a single quarter, 203 in the second. And that's because it was the 13th game this season they gave up points in the final two minutes of the half.

But the Bengals did it as the home crowd booed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finishing a choppy first half with 15 of 22 passing for 123 yards and a uncharacteristic 63.3 passer rating without injured Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.

His numbers were bad because sixth-year safety Shawn Williams ripped off the first-pick six of his career to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead with 12:37 left in the Roethlisberger appeared to think he had a free play, but the Bengals weren't called for being in the neutral zone on a blitz.

Williams then dropped into a zone and when Roethlisberger underthrew wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle, Williams leaped for the catch and then busted up the left sideline for a 58-yard return.

It was Williams' team-leading fifth interception and the Bengals' first pick since Williams had an interception in Baltimore on Nov. 18 to break a five-game drought.

Photos from the final regular season game of 2018 as the Bengals travel to Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive tackle Christian Ringo ended the Steelers' fourth drive of the day with a sack of Roethlisberger helped by penetration from defensive tackle Geno Atkins and end Sam Hubbard.

Joe Mixon, with a 91-yard lead in the AFC rushing race, didn't play on all three snaps in the Bengals' first drive and the Bengals had a three-and-out when two runs by running back Giovani Bernard and a quick throw to Erickson came up a yard short.

Mixon came in on the second drive and found it tough going against the Steelers' 10-man box with just 18 yards on six carries and his longest run was eight yards.

The Bengals defense held up on the first drive of the game despite tight end Vance McDonald converting a screen on third-and-11. Atkins had good penetration on a four-yard loss on a reverse, Atkins and Williams teamed to drop running back James Conner on a short gain and cornerback William Jackson had great coverage on a third-down slant to wide receiver Smith-Schuster. Then when the Steelers went for it on fourth-and-one from their 49, the Bengals didn't jump offsides when Roethlisberger sent everyone in motion, and forced punt.

Then the Bengals staged a three-and-out on the next series when defensive tackle Andrew Billings had great penetration on the first snap and dropped running back Jaylen Samuels for a two-yard loss. But the Bengals couldn't take advantage of the field position when safety Clayton Fejedelem was called for a block in the back on the punt.

But Erickson erased it when he made a he made a nice catch on third down on a ball thrown behind him. That overcame wide receiver John Ross' drop on second down on the sidelines.

Then Driskel outran linebacker Bud Dupree on a third-and-eight scramble he converted with a flashy scramble to get the Bengals to their 48.

But on the next snap the Bengals blitzed linebacker L.J. Fort and Erickson, in the slot couldn't get him and Driskel was sacked. The Steelers blitzed again on second down and Driskel threw a good deep ball despite getting blown up, but wide receiver Cody Core saw the ball knocked away as he landed on his left elbow and he left the field with an air cast.

Another devastating injury for the receivers in a game they already started without starters A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.

Then on third down Driskel tried to throw a screen to Bernard, but defensive end Stephon Tuitt got his hand on the ball for the incompletion. On the punt the Bengals committed their league-leading 29th false start when linebacker Brandon Bell moved early.

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