The Bengals flipped everyone's narrative Monday night when their defense blanked the Steelers in the first half and then prevented another fourth-quarter comeback by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a stunning 27-17 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
On fourth-and-10 on the first play after the two-minute warning, ends Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard met at Roethlisberger and he overthrew it to give Bengals head coach Zac Taylor his first win over Pittsburgh.
On third down cornerback Darius Phillips had just batted down a deep ball to rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool as the 14-point underdog Bengals closed in on their biggest upset in years.
Taylor crafted an effective game plan in which back-up quarterback Ryan Finley threw just 13 passes (he hit seven for 89 yards) and the Bengals rolled up 152 yards on 41 rushes as they scored their most points against Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in his 14 seasons.
Running back Giovani Bernard went for 83 yards on 25 carries and Finley added 47 yards on 10 keeps as the Bengals beat Pittsburgh at it own game: three turnovers for them, none for the Bengals, the run game and defense.
The Bengals had a shot to get a first down on the first series of the second half. With leading wide receiver Tyler Boyd out with a concussion, back-up slot receiver Alex Erickson broke into the open over the middle to the left sideline and Finley underthrew him as he rolled to his left.
Ben didn't let them off the hook this time. His offense, held to 40 yards in the first half, got 60 on back-to-back plays on their first series of the second half. The first 37 came on a wide receiver screen to Claypool on the left sideline behind tight end Vance McDonald's basketball-like pick. Then on the next snap wide receiver Diontae Johnson ripped past cornerback Darius Phillips and Roethlisberger laid it over his shoulder in the end zone to cut it to 17-7.
The Bengals again went three-and-out on the next series and it was again because of another underthrown ball on third down. Wide receiver Tee Higgins had cornerback Cameron Sutton beat on a double move down right side, but the ball was thrown so that Higgins had a better shot at it than Higgins.
The Steelers didn't let that go by either. The Bengals were so good against the run in the first half, but they let Steelers running back Bennie Snell get out for runs of 29 and 13 yard in this drive. They got another great rush by Lawson in the red zone that forced a chip-shot field goal to cut the lead to 17-10.
That led to another three-and-out on offense and again a third-down incompletion that appeared to be there, but Finley and wide receiver A.J. Green looked to be running different routes and the ball was overthrown.
But the Bengals defense returned to its first-half form. After Hubbard knocked down Roethlisberger's pass, middle linebacker Josh Bynes came roaring up the middle on third-and-one and dropped Snell in his tracks to force a punt.
That seemed to ignite the Bengals offense. They didn't score in the third quarter for the seventh straight game, but starting with 1:21 left in the third quarter, they strung together their first six first downs of the second half.
Finley bounced back tough. He got absolutely drilled by three Steelers (he took an elbow to the head from linebacker Avery Williamson), but he shot putted a first down pass to Green and the offensive line came off the ball as they finished off the nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on Finley's 23-yard keeper on the zone read for a touchdown that made it 24-10 with 11:21 left in the game.
That play was wide open because linebacker Alex Highsmith collapsed on running back Samaje Perine inside and when Finley pulled it, the outside was wide open.
Finley also converted a huge third-and-six in that drive on his own draw.
But the Bengals let them off the hook on the next drive. Cornerback William Jackson III, who played such a good game, could have all but won the game when Roethlisberger inexplicably floated the ball right to him down the sideline with no one around. But he dropped it.
Still, the Bengals forced a fourth-and-four when lineman Margus Hunt tipped a pass and then penetrated to help drop Snell for a loss back to the Bengals 12. But Tomlin eschewed the field goal and he went for it on fourth-and-four. And Jackson was called for interfering with Diontae Johnson. Snell scored to cut it to 24-17 with 5:32 left.
With the Bengals piling up their second biggest rushing game against the Steelers in this century and their most in 20 years, they did convert a third-and-one on a Finley sneak and forced Pittsburgh to call a timeout with 2:35 left.
But on the next third down, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was all over Finley on this zone read to force a punt.
It's Monday Night Football at Paul Brown Stadium. Check out some of the best photos as the Bengals host the Steelers in Week 15 of the 2020 NFL season.