Palmer calmly took the Bengals 71 yards on the game-winning drive. (AP photo)
Posted: 6:40 a.m.
Marvin Lewis is a Pittsburgh guy. A stubborn, strong, single-minded grinder.
So naturally in his 100th game as Bengals head coach his team gave the Pittsburgh native his first Paul Brown Stadium victory over the Steelers in seven seasons with a Pittsburgh victory of perseverance, toughness and good old-fashioned grinding that stunned the Super Bowl champions with a fourth-quarter rally that is becoming a way of life for Comeback Carson Palmer and his Cardiac Kids.
"It was unbelievable. It was a blast. It was probably the most fun I've ever had playing," said Palmer, author of the last grinding 16-play drive that consumed five minutes of the last 5:14.
An hour after it was over, in typical grinder fashion, Lewis was thinking more about the wounded Browns in Cleveland next week than what people were calling one of the five biggest wins of his career. In the past six seasons he has been burned by teams that couldn't handle success.
"That's what I told them in there after it was over," Lewis said. "It's nice, but it's only the third week."
He'll be happy to know that Palmer seconded his thoughts in the postgame news conference.
But if there has been a bigger win in six seasons, where was it? Pittsburgh in December 2005 and September 2006? Denver at home on Monday night in 2004? Baltimore at home in 2003 when the Bengals were 1-4? In Baltimore in 2004 down by 21 in the fourth quarter?
"It was huge for both teams. They were coming off of a loss and we were coming off of a good win," Palmer said. "And to start off your divisional schedule with a win at home is huge. We need to enjoy this but also move past it. It's one game and it's only Week 3. We have a dangerous team that is on the ropes next week. They're at home and they have some controversy with a lot of things going on in their locker room. We need to go up there and handle business, be professional and not get caught up in anything else."
It was a Lewis kind of win, shaped by a relentless and opportunistic defense in the second half that held the Steelers to 24 yards on the ground and a balanced offense that finally paid dividends in the last 9:14 with its two touchdowns. Palmer punctuated it with another ice-water-end-of-game-cascade drive, the red zone defense made it possible by holding the Steelers to field goals when they reached the 1- and 6-yard lines in the first half.
It was Lewis' kind of guys, too. He's been saying it since March that this is his kind of team. On Sunday he called them "castoffs," and while there are a lot of first-round picks running around out there on defense, the guys who responded late were the guys that had struggled early.
The defense was back on its heels in the first half as cornerback Johnathan Joseph got torched on a 51-yard bomb down the sideline. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles had been hemmed in much of the day with three catches for 12 yards. Until the last quarter, Palmer was just 10-of-20.
"We've got a lot of resilient guys on this team," said safety Chris Crocker, the seven-year veteran, and Coles, the hard-bitten veteran who caught two balls for 22 yards in the last drive that featured a fourth-and-two version, brought 10 seasons of perspective.
"The thing about this team is no one is going to lie down. This team has a lot of resilience. I'm just proud to be part of the ballclub and have these guys around me fight the way they do," Coles said. "I told (Palmer) I appreciate him trusting me in that situation. I know I came over here and I'm one of the guys. It's not my role anymore to be the guy. That's Chad's role and for (Palmer) to trust me like that because they were following up and doubling Chad, I wanted to make a play and keep the sticks moving."
Lewis' kind of guys.
And it was the defense that jolted the Bengals alive and swung the momentum in the first 1:25 of the second half when Joseph came back to pick off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and had no one in front of him on a 30-yard interception return that cut the lead to 13-9. The Bengals' first interception of the season was one to remember.
"We were in an all-out blitz and he had to get rid of it. I don't think the receiver (Santonio Holmes) got the check," Crocker said.
Joseph thought he had stepped in front of a blitz read and Holmes wasn't ready for it.
"It was a hot read; I guess miscommunication," Joseph said. "The guy was supposed to run a stop. That's what it looked like and I made a jump on the ball. It was a little confidence-booster for us and one for myself."
Suddenly the Bengals, who had been gasping for air at that point, were just a touchdown away even though the extra point was botched on a high snap.
"It was a struggle. For the whole first half, we were a little bit off and seemed timid," Palmer said. "Our coaches made some great adjustments in the locker room (at halftime), and we came out and executed. We played more on our toes as opposed to sitting back on our heels. We played a little more aggressively and it paid off."
Running back Willie Parker seemed poised to become the Steelers 100-yard rusher in their sixth straight game at PBS after he gouged the Bengals for 53 yards on his first nine carries and 72 on his first 14 at the half. But he finished with just 93 on 25 carries as the defense steadied itself just in time.
"We knew what they were going to run and we knew his style. We just pretty much lined up and played," said rookie SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga. "We just came back in at halftime and fixed up some things. It was nothing major. Put in a few more blitzes to pressure the quarterback and let's go."
Maualuga may have been the Ultimate Grinder on Sunday. Taken off the sidelines on a cart late in the third quarter after he heard his knee pop, he came back running out of the tunnel just in time for the start of the fourth with what looks to be, at worst, a sprained MCL.
"Oh yeah, it will be sore tomorrow when I wake up," he said.
Lewis' kind of guys, who are spread all over the offensive line. Carried by veterans Bobbie Williams at right guard and Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, the Young and Nameless finally got their feet on the ground and gave Palmer enough time to sizzle for 10-of-17 passing in the fourth quarter, when running back Cedric Benson ripped off his longest run of the day, a 23-yard touchdown that gave him 76 yards on 16 carries.
"We didn't run block well early," said Whitworth, who appeared not to give up the one sack credited to the dangerous James Harrison. "But we pass blocked like heck all night. We really didn't make any adjustments. We just got better as the game went on. The more we played the better we got. We didn't put our head down. We kept with it."
Whitworth, an offensive captain, has been saying it all spring and summer, too: This is a different team. Williams was called for a hold late in the second quarter on Benson's first-down run, but he came back to lead the charge in the final drive.
"This is a different team with a different attitude," Williams said. "We've got a lot of fighters. We're coming from the bottom from last year. Guys saw that. Guys are flowing from that. The fight in this team is unbelievable and we won't be denied."
Lewis' kind of guys.
A guy that Palmer typifies. He's come back from injury and heartbreak and in the second time in three games he led the team down the field for points they absolutely needed in the last minute in drives of a combined 162 yards.
Even a first-down spike at the 15 called from the bench didn't turn out to be disastrous.
"We were going to have plays; we had two timeouts," Palmer said. "I knew I'd rather have timeouts at the end of the game. Especially if Andre (Caldwell) ends up being short, I'd rather call timeout than have to clock it down there and waste I don't know how many seconds and still have 10-plus seconds on the clock."
If Palmer looks nerveless, he is.
"I'm not a big cheerleader. It's kind of business as usual," Palmer said. "It what I want to portray ... we've got a job to do ... we just need to execute and do your job. ... When everybody handles their job, we're going to score touchdowns."