A big kick return by Alex Erickson and quarterback Andy Dalton's 48-second microwave drive that resulted in Pittsburgh's own Tyler Boyd's 23-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds left gave the Bengals a 14-14 halftime tie with the Steelers.
That came after Boyd and fellow wide receiver Cody Core dropped third-down passes on consecutive series and then Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger converted two in the final three minutes of the half to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead.
When Steelers running back John Conner scored on his second one-yard of the day with 1:13 left, it marked the 15th time in the last 22 games the Bengals have given up points in the final two minutes of the first half.
But Erickson solved that with the ensuing 47-yard return and with the Bengals going up 24 times in the half, Dalton promptly hit wide receiver A.J. Green twice and tight end C.J. Uzomah once before finding Boyd all by himself against cornerback Artie Burns for Boyd's second touchdown of the day.
Dalton, victimized by four drops and two sacks finished the half 15 of 24 for 122 yards and a passer rating of 103.1. The Bengals called on their running backs six times, with Joe Mixon's five carries for 40 yards accounting for all the rushing.
The Bengals lost SAM linebacker Nick Vigil (knee) in the half and WILL backer Vontaze Burfict went out with a shoulder, but they hoped he could return. They also lost cornerback Darqueze Dennard with a shoulder injury and he was gone for the game.
Facing a third-and-six from the Cincinnati 29, the Bengals blitzed but they didn't get near Roethlisberger and he floated a ball one-on-one to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Smith-Schuster leaped over Dennard and tore the ball away from him to put the ball inside the 1. Dennard then left with the shoulder injury
Roethlisberger's leading receiver in the half was tight end Vance McDonald (five catches for 67 yards) and Conner pounded it 12 times for 48 yards. McDonald's big catch, a 26-yarder, came courtesy of missed tackles by Burfict and safety Shawn Williams and he rode middle linebacker Preston Brown and nose tackle Andrew Billings for the final five. Roethlisberger, 13 of 20 in the half for 154 yards and an 88.3 rating, also hit McDonald for a 12-yard gain over the middle on third-and-six to keep that TD drive going.
The Bengals parlayed a 36-yard Steeler punt into the first touchdown drive of the day that was capped when Boyd caught a two-yard, third-down touchdown pass after Dalton alertly saw him lined up in the slot against linebacker Anthony Chickillo.
That came after Dalton saw Green matched up with linebacker Vince Edwards down the middle and after dropping two easy slants too start the game, Green made a hellacious leaping 19-yard catch.
While the Steelers came out looking to establish the run, the Bengals came out chucking. Dalton hit five of his first 11 passes for just 37 yards while Mixon carried three times for 17 yards. One was a bolt up the middle (and cut to the right) for 14 yards.
Mixon added a 17-yarder off the right perimeter, but the Bengals were going pass heavy and Dalton got abused by his receivers when they dropped two on third down after Green dropped the early two. After that Mixon run, Dalton found Boyd on third-and-four on a back-shoulder throw and he couldn't hang on.
Images from week six as the Bengals host the Steelers in an AFC North showdown.
On the next series the Bengals kept throwing on first down and found themselves looking at second-and-15 when Dalton got bull-rushed up the middle for sack. Then on third-and-six Dalton had wide receiver Cody Core wide open across the middle for a first down and he dropped.
The Bengals began the day stuffing Conner for four yards on his first three carries, but after Cincinnati took a 7-0 lead Conner got the Steelers going with a 26-yard run behind pulling right guard David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey that sealed off the Bengals' right perimeter.
It was a costly play. The Bengals lost Vigil to a left knee injury that took out the NFL's fourth-leading tackler for the rest of the game and he was replaced by veteran Vincent Rey. Then the Bengals just missed getting a pick when left end Carlos Dunlap tipped yet another pass (six) in the air, but it was Roethlisberger that caught it. Then on second-and-21 Smith-Schuster got inside cornerback Dennard for the first down and Conner did the rest. His one-yard tied the game at seven in the first minute of the second quarter.
The Bengals had a horrendous first offensive series on a three-and-out Green let the ball get in on him dropped a ball that would have been a 15-yard play over the middle. Sandwich around that play was a run-pass option that not only resulted in a throw-away incompletion, but left guard Clint Boling being illegally down on a penalty that was declined. The Steelers then swarmed the third-down screen to Mixon for no gain
But Kevin Huber swung field position for the Bengals with a rolling 62-yard punt to the Steelers 14 that return man Ryan Switzer should have caught and the Bengals defense then delivered a three-and-out of their own. They stopped Conner for two yards on first down and then pressured Roethlisberger for two straight incompletions. That set up Jordan Berry's brutal 36-yard punt that set up Cincinnati's first touchdown drive from the Bengals 46.