Posted: 2:20 a.m.
PITTSBURGH - Special teams coach Darrin Simmons told the team on Wednesday that this game was setting up just like the 2005 game in Pittsburgh that the Bengals won, 38-31, to win the AFC North.
Two even teams. A tight game. A few big plays in special teams would swing it.
Little did he know that Sunday's 18-12 victory would be so similar it would be like he was seeing double as his unit supplied all the points in a special teams festival. Just like four years ago, the Bengals swung the game with a huge kick return from a sixth-round pick.
Then it was a 94-yarder in which Tab Perry didn't get in but set up a touchdown from the 3 that allowed the Bengals to answer a Steelers touchdown and take the lead for good. This time it was a 96-yard touchdown return by rookie running back Bernard Scott for the game's only touchdown and staked the revived Bengals to a 6-3 lead with 4:26 left that came right after Pittsburgh's first score.
Right guard Bobbie Williams noticed how it took something out of the second biggest crowd in Heinz Field history (65,392), not to mention how it jacked up his club.
"The kickoff return was amazing; the moves he made, the cuts he made," said quarterback Carson Palmer.
But the biggest play may have been from another special teams rookie, punter Kevin Huber, in a game the Bengals led, 12-9, with 2:59 left in the third quarter. Standing virtually on his own end line and enveloped by the Heinz jackals, Huber cranked out a 48-yard punt to midfield that forced a fair catch. The Steelers ended up scoring one of their four field goals, but it took them 12 plays to go just 34 yards.
"Probably his biggest play of the season," Simmons said. "Absolutely huge. He had to get it out of there quick with everybody rushing and he gets it high enough to force a fair catch. Huge."
It erased his extra-point snafu following Scott's return when Huber simply dropped a good snap.
"When he went to put it down and he squeezed it, it popped out," Simmons said. "That happens with K-balls. Slick. It happened to Tony Romo in the playoffs in Seattle a few years ago. But he came back."
Indeed, Huber went on to hold for kicker Shayne Graham's very solid 4-for-5 day kicking field goals. Graham's only miss was a 51-yarder that hit the right upright, which isn't hard to do on a field where only one opposing kicker has made a 50-yarder in the history of Heinz. But he hit his next four (23, 32, 32, 43) and worked very calmly on a field that is continually voted by the players as of one of the league's worst surfaces because it's mostly grass and it is a stadium used by the University of Pittsburgh, as well as various high schools.
Pitt beat Notre Dame on Saturday night, but the field wasn't as torn up as it had been the previous two years because Sunday was a dry day with temperatures soaring near 70 degrees.
"We stole one with the weather today," Graham said, celebrating his first four field-goal game since December 2007. "This is probably the nicest it's been in the nine years I've kicked in this building. Our operation was good the whole day, I felt very good with it. All you can ask for is opportunities as a kicker and we certainly had them."
Scott got six points all at once with his first NFL touchdown on his fourth NFL return. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated after the game that Simmons had been trying to get Scott on the field for the past month but Lewis had balked. Not only was he a rookie, but he just hadn't looked smooth catching the ball. But one of the Steelers' Achilles' heels, allowing at least one return of some kind for a TD in the last seven games bit them."
"He's worked really hard the last couple of weeks staying after practice and just catching kicks every day," Simmons said. "That's all. Just catching kicks. He's so natural running with the ball, he just has to get comfortable catching."
Lewis couldn't help laugh at his news conference, recalling how Scott had watched fellow Abilene Christian alums Johnny Knox and Danieal Manning in the Bears game and how his competitive juices got rolling. Particularly with Knox, his classmate who came into that game leading the NFL in kick returns.
"I know if he can do it I can do it too. It was a bad kick," said Scott, who took it from right to left before cutting it up the middle. "I was reading off my blocks and that's where they took me. Yeah, I wanted to outrun the kicker but I was getting tired."
The Bengals had a return called down their sideline, which was to Scott's left. Naturally, kicker Jeff Reed hit a bad kick down the right sideline. Scott had to range over and test those hands, and he passed catching it on a hop. Punt returner Quan Cosby got a good block in the mush on fellow punt returner Stefan Logan and 90 yards later he got him again to protect Scott as he stepped into the end zone.
"It was really the worst possible kick for the play that was on," Simmons said. "But give Bernard credit. He read out the blocks and that's the one thing you have to have for a good return; blocking."