12-30-01, 2:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Steelers took a 17-10 half-time lead here Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and the dazed Bengals could only wonder how it wasn't the other way around.
They got their biggest pass play of the season in wide receiver Darnay Scott's 49-yard catch as he neared his first 100-yard receiving day in three months with five catches for 92 yards in the first half.
Running back Corey Dillon had 55 yards against the Steelers' top-ranked rush defense in the NFL on 10 carries that included his longest run in two months with a 30-yarder.
But the Bengals twice jammed the ball inside the Steelers 9 in the first half and Neil Rackers missed field goals of 32 and 28 yards.
Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart didn't let the chances go by in his MVP season. He beat the Bengals on two long touchdown passes to wide receiver Plaxico Burress and finished the first half on a seamless 11 of 16 passing for 177 yards that shook the passer rating meter at 145.1
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna had his best half since the bye week seven losses ago. He hit on 12 of 24 throws for 170 yards and engineered a one-minute, 48-yard drive at the end of the half that ended in Rackers' 34-yard field goal at the gun.
The big play was Kitna's 14-yard across-the-field out pattern to wide receiver Chad Johnson that converted a third-and-seven with nine seconds left and put the ball on the Pittsburgh 17.
Fittingly, it took the Bengals' defense to score after a month the Bengals' offense has offered just four in four games and none last week. Middle linebacker Brian Simmons went 56 yards for a touchdown after Steelers holder Josh Miller fumbled a field-goal snap. Cornerback Robert Bean picked it up and went 10 yards before shoving a lateral to Simmons with just under five minutes left in the half as the Bengals cut the lead to 14-7.
But Stewart, who completed four passes of 20 yards or more, came back and hit a big 20-yarder to Troy Edwards over the middle on third-and-long with two minutes left in the half to set up Kris Brown's 38-yard field goal with a minute left that gave the Steelers a 17-7 half-time lead.
The Bengals' promising start turned into a mess and showed why this season is where it is. On their first drive, they had a first down inside the Steeler 1 and got no points.
In a play that will be debated and analyzed for who knows how long Kitna got sacked for a four-yard loss
on a rollout after a play-action fake to Dillon.
The Bengals had to go for a 23-yard field goal, which Rackers made. But when tight end Kirk McMullen was called for a hold, Rackers shoved the ensuing 32-yarder to the right.
Just when it seemed it couldn't get worse, it did right away. Stewart worked the flea flicker after a handoff, avoided a sack, and then just fired the ball 30 yards in the air to midfield. Only his receiver, Hines Ward, saw it and he came back to the ball in front of Bengals defensive backs Artrell Hawkins, Cory Hall and Kevin Kaesviharn for a 30-yard play. Two plays later, Kaesviharn had Burress covered down the right sideline, but he didn't come back to the ball and Burress did. When Kaesviharn and free safety Darryl Williams missed tackles, Burress had a 42-yard touchdown catch and the Steelers had a 7-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter.
Couldn't get worse on the next series? When Kitna underthrew Scott on a quick pass, they faced a fourth-and-one from their own 45. Dillon got stuffed when nose tacke Casey Hampton penetrated into the backield to set up inside linebacker Earl Holmes' stop.
Three plays later, Stewart hit a wide-open Burress cutting across the middle away from Kaesviharn for a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead 12 minutes into the game.