Bengals tight end Tyler rumbles downfield on his 61-yard catch and run.
Something old and something new paved the way for the Bengals to walk down the aisle to their first victory of the season Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium, when rookie running back Giovani Bernard injected life into a flagging offense and safety Reggie Nelson channeled last December in Pittsburgh when he picked off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with 4:55 left to preserve another AFC North grind job by the defense in a 20-10 victory over the Steelers.
And running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis symbolized the smashmouth effort when he followed defensive tackle Domata Peko lined up at fullback and mashed for a Steelers-like eight-yard gain on third-and-six as the clock ticked under four minutes and Pittsburgh had to call a timeout.
Nelson, who intercepted Roethlisberger in the last minute last season to set up the winning Bengals field goal to qualify for the playoffs, made a diving catch Monday night at the Bengals 13 when the pass went off the hands of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
The game got chippy at the end with Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley getting called for unnecessary roughness and left tackle Andrew Whitworth jawing with safety Troy Polamalu and walking off the field with arms raised saluting the crowd of 64,585 savoring head coach Marvin Lewis's second home win over the Steelers in 12 games and first Monday night win in six years and six days.
The Steelers had just minus two yards in the first 23 minutes of the second half.
Bernard took a checkdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton and scooted 27 yards for a touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie with 6:08 left in the third quarter as he left linebacker Kion Wilson and safety Ryan Clark in the dust. Tight end Jermaine Gresham went for 26 yards on a catch-and-bull and Green-Ellis provided some foreshadowing when he converted a third-and-one mashing behind Peko.
It was Bernard's second touchdown of the night as he finished with eight carries for 38 yards to complement Green-Ellis's 75 yards on 22 carries. Dalton survived a tough 25-for-45 night for 280 yards, but got his feet back on the ground when the Bengals turned to the run in the second half and kept the ball for more than 35 minutes on the way to breaking the 400-yard mark. The 407 yards are the most the Bengals have chalked up in 20 games against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and their most since the LeBeau-led Bengals put up 544 yards on Pittsburgh in the 2001 season finale at PBS.
Defensively the Bengals held the Steelers to 44 yards rushing, their best effort against Pittsburgh since 1999.
Mike Nugent capped a 14-play drive lasting nearly seven minutes with a 25-yard field goal that made it 20-10 with 7:51 left.
A familiar script eerily unfolded in the first half when the Bengals offense let the Steelers off the hook and allowed them to score a tying touchdown with 1:54 left when Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Derek Moye working on cornerback Leon Hall for on a one-yard touchdown pass in the right corner.
Facing a four-man rush, Roethlisberger converted his first third down of the game on his fifth try with a bullet over the middle to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for 19 yards on third-and-eight, and on the next play on another four-man rush cornerback Adam Jones let Sanders get behind him over the middle for 43 yards and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick made a saving tackle at the 1-yard line. Roethlisberger finished the game 20-of-37 passing for 251 yards without much help from a running game that averaged just 2.75 yards on 16 carries.
As sharp as Dalton was in Chicago last week, he was just as sloppy and inaccurate in a half he completed just 16 of 32 passes for 165 yards in a wild-and-high effort.
Coming into the game it was supposed to be the Steelers that were going to spread the field and go pass-happy to protect their limping running game. But before the Bengals went hurry-up in the final 1:54, they had thrown the ball 23 times despite running it eight times for 46 yards.
But Dalton couldn't put it where his receivers needed it. With 5:13 left, the Bengals microwaved a three-and-out in just one minute. After Bernard picked up four yards on first down at the Bengals 24, Dalton overthrew tight end Alex Smith down the seam and on third down he appeared to suffer a miscommunication with wide receiver A.J. Green on a play over the middle when the ball went inside and Green went outside.
Earlier Dalton tried to hit Green on a flag route, but Green ran a post and the ball was nowhere near him.
The offense flashed only briefly and it was its new weapons from the draft when tight end Tyler Eifert's 61-yard catch set up Bernard's first NFL touchdown on a seven-yard run that steadied a shaky start and gave the Bengals a 7-3 lead in the first minute of the first quarter. With Anthony Collins as an extra tackle on the right side, Bernard cut it left on his way to 19 yards on three carries in the half while Green-Ellis had 34 yards on seven carries.
Then the Bengals went up 10-3 on Nugent's 41-yard field goal early in the second quarter when Whitworth blew up safety Ryan Clark on wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's 14-yard screen on the sideline, and on the other sideline wide receiver Marvin Jones made cornerback Ike Taylor miss at the line of scrimmage on a 12-yard short pass.
The Steelers offense that didn't score its only touchdown of an Opening Day loss until less than two minutes left threatened to go up 10-0 when tight end David Paulson beat a zone down the middle for 34 yards to the Bengals 16. But Adam Jones stripped the ball from behind as Paulson went down and Jones picked it up and ran 10 yards before it was blown dead.
When the replay clearly showed the ball came out before Paulson hit the ground, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won the challenge and got the ball at the 13 and that's where the flagging Cincinnati offense got a spark when Bernard checked into the lineup. On second-and-five Bernard bolted for eight yards behind the right side and that set up the big throw to Eifert, the longest throw to a Bengals tight end in the four seasons since the drafting of tight end Jermaine Gresham.
The usually steel-belted Bengals special teams melted early. After Steelers running back Felix Jones returned the opening kickoff 35 yards, wide receiver Antonio Brown took Kevin Huber's first punt 40 yards to the Bengals 34.
On second down the Bengals racked up their first sack of the season when Peko bull-rushed right guard David DeCastro and left end Carlos Dunlap did the same on the edge and they met at Roethlisberger back at the 40. But the Steelers snuck in a field goal against the nickel package when Jones ran a draw for 14 yards up the middle to set up Shaun Suisham's 44 yard field goal to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead in the first 4:17.
Dalton was wild high on the first two series. He sailed the ball over Eifert down the field on back-to-back intermediate routes to force a punt and then overthrew Green on a short out route on the first snap on the next series. He heated up enough to get two completions to Green and hit Marvin Jones on an eight-yard sideline route and the Bengals were moving as Green-Ellis tore off a 10-yard run. But when BJGE ran wide right he lost two yards and on third down Dalton had Gresham open running across the middle on strong safety Troy Polamalu, but he overthrew it to force another punt.
Bengals tackle Geno Atkins sacked Roethlisberger early in the third quarter, but right end Michael Johnson came off the field after the play and was being evaluated for a concussion. He was cleared to return late in the third quarter.
Whitworth and Collins didn't alternate by series at left tackle, but the snaps looked to be about even.
PREGAME NOTES: Lewis released his lineup before Monday night's game against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was expected to start after just three practices following a knee procedure that shelved him for three weeks.
Also expected to start was rookie Tyler Eifert in a double tight-end set that should be the norm with H-back Orson Charles inactive. It wouldn't be a surprise if Whitworth shares some snaps with Anthony Collins as Steelers first-round pick Jarvis Jones expected to make his first NFL start opposite them at right outside linebacker.
Also inactive were wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, running back Rex Burkhead, cornerback Brandon Ghee, offensive linemen Tanner Hawkinson and Mike Pollak, and defensive end Margus Hunt.
Just a few hours before game the Bengals finally signed that sixth linebacker. It turned out to be their own J.K. Schaffer, promoted from the practice squad.
In order to make room the Bengals waived safety Jeromy Miles, their top returning special teams player who didn't practice last week after missing most of the opener with a hamstring injury.
Miles, a fourth-year player with 36 special teams tackles in 39 games, was categorized as doubtful for Monday's game. It's unclear if it's a long-term move, but nothing will be known for the next 24 hours as Miles goes through waivers.
Since the Bengals linebackers took the most hits with preseason injuries, the club has looked at a couple of veteran linebackers. The Bengals brought in former Giant Michael Boley and former Seahawk Leroy Hill, as well as one of their former players, Thomas Howard. Schaffer spent the last half of last season on the practice squad and provides more experience in the system than rookie Jayson DiManche.
Miles is a valued gunner covering punts, a spot that wide receiver Ryan Whalen plays. After not going last Sunday in Chicago, Whalen was up for the Steelers and that meant Charles didn't suit up with the Bengals going with five wide receivers.
Schaffer, a product of LaSalle High School and the University of Cincinnati, made his NFL debut Monday night and joins a select few Bengals that have played football in high school, college and the NFL in Cincinnati. Others are Clem Turner, Vaughn Booker and current punter Kevin Huber. Turner and Huber are the only all-Cincinnati players to be drafted. Schaffer was signed by Jacksonville last year as an undrafted free agent.
For all the talk about the injuries to center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote, the Steelers came into it with some serious problems in the secondary. Their second and third corners, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, were out and the thinking is that Syracuse rookie safety Shamarko Thomas may have to work in the slot.
Rookie mistake for Eifert before the first snap. He already came on the field and was waiting for the other starters to be announced when his name was called. So he ran halfway down the tunnel and turned back.
Lewis sent out a smashmouth message. His captains were tight end Jermaine Gresham and right tackle Andre Smith on offense, tackle Geno Atkins and right end Michael Johnson on defense, and linebacker Vincent Rey on special teams. As usual when the Bengals win the toss, they deferred.