A.J. Green made another game-winning TD catch Sunday to slay a division rival.
PITTSBURGH - This historic Bengals team had a message for the Steelers and their icy Pro Bowl wide receiver delivered it for them Sunday in that Heinz Field mausoleum they thawed with a fiery 16-10 victory.
"They're just not going to push us around and expect us to sit there," Green said after it was over. "I'm not backing down from anybody."
Green, the usually impassive super star, offered a combustible in-your-face 11 catches for 118 yards, including the nine-yard touchdown catch on third-and-two that brought the Bengals to the doorstep of their second AFC North title in three years with 2:57 left. For the second time in 35 days Green and quarterback Andy Dalton brought an AFC North rival to its knees on the road with a go ahead TD in the final three minutes and this one had some bite to it.
After going eyeball-to-eyeball with the Ravens and Steelers and making them blink at the end of games in their own buildings, the Bengals are 7-0 and left Heinz with a four-game lead in the loss column with nine games left to play over the 4-4 Steelers.
"A lot of people talk," said Green, who brought down the Ravens with 2:10 left. "I expect my game to do all the talking."
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, whose team has lived for years bullying the Bengals in their own division, said one syllable too many. It came with 5:48 left in the second quarter, one play after Mitchell had knocked the breath out of Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones on a mid-air shot.
"After he hit Marvin he came up me and said, 'You're next,'" Green recalled. "I didn't say anything. I guess some guys have to (talk). I don't need to do all that."
Mitchell got flagged 15 yards for taunting, giving the Bengals a first down after the Steelers had stopped them on third-and-two.
"It just woke me up," Green said. "Thank you. Thank you for that."
But they couldn't repay the kindness until late. A few plays before he caught the winner when they were on the Steelers 17, Green and cornerback Antwon Blake clawed at each other after Green caught a quick four-yard pass along the line scrimmage and both were called with off-setting face-mask penalties.
"Playing football. A bunch of men playing passionate, doing something they love. You know it's going to be chippy," Green said. "Sometimes I have to (talk back). I had to do it today. I guess. I guess."
Green had his revenge. Last year at Heinz with less than four minutes left in the AFC North title game it was Blake that forced Green's fumble after a 17-yard catch at the Steelers 30 and it was Mitchell that crashed into him at the end of the play giving Green the concussion that knocked him out of the next week's Wild Card Game.
But Green said there were no flashbacks.
"I just play,' he said. "I just let my play speak for itself."
While Green supplied the fire, Dalton supplied the ice. After throwing two fourth-quarter interceptions, Dalton made his last throw count on a long, tough day filled with frustration. The Steelers had been giving Green a cushion much of the day. But not this time on third-and-two when Green fried backup cornerback Russ Cockrell to the inside on a slant and shook out of his tackle to stretch the ball over the goal line.
Andy Dalton survived some choppy waters to jack his career road record to 10 games over .500 at 23-13.
Even though the Steelers are 4-4, they look like the third best team in the AFC behind the unbeaten Bengals and Patriots. They held the Bengals' third-ranked offense to a season-low 296 yards and 16 points and Dalton, the NFL's leading passer, to a season-low 64.7 passer rating.
"It's going to be like that sometimes,' Green said. "It's not an easy game. It's not always going to be scoring 30 points or whatever it is we scored in the first six games. There are going to be tough games, but you have to be able to churn it out and make the plays when you need it."
The beauty of the previous six games had been that Dalton didn't have to force it to Green. But with Pittsburgh trying to make sure it didn't get beat deep, Dalton gunned it to him a season-high 17 times.
"They were kind of playing soft on him, so I tried to get it out quick to him and let him go run," Dalton said. "You try to get AJ involved as much as you can. When you have a player like he is, you find different ways to get him the ball. He made big plays for us. We
Cincinnati Bengals travel to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 8 of the regular season
kept trying to get it to him. He kept giving us looks where we could get it to him.
But there weren't many plays until that final drive. On a day the Bengals missed their first seven third downs and two of their first 11, they converted their final two.
"They tried to show one coverage and run out. There was enough room to throw it to him," Dalton said of the TD. "He did a good job of catching it and getting north to the end zone. It's a play that you have to have at that point in the game. We had the opportunity, and we made it."
Hoarse head coach Marvin Lewis said after it was over that resiliency has been the hallmark of this run and never was it more apparent than third down on that last drive when the Bengals converted two of them against a Steelers defense that had stopped them like no defense had stopped them this season.
The Steelers blitzed the bejeezus out of Dalton and the Bengals had no answer in pass protection. He got sacked three times and ran for his life most of the time in completing 23 of 38 passes for 231 yards and had a season-high two interceptions and a season-low 27 percent on third down.
On third-and-five from the Steelers 40 with 4:12 left, they came after him again, moving him out of the pocket and outside linebacker James Harrison, the biggest Steeler bully of them all, actually had the back of Dalton's No. 14 in his hands. But Dalton got out of there and saw running back Giovani Bernard standing wide open in the middle of the field about five yards away from him as the ultimate check-down receiver.
Dalton shoveled it to him like a basketball chest pass and Bernard was off on a 23-yard play. It was reminiscent of his 22-yard swing pass to Bernard on the first play of the winning drive in Baltimore when Dalton had again exhausted all his options.
But it sounded like Dalton was thinking about Bernard's first NFL receiving TD, which came in the second game of Bernard's rookie year on a 27-yarder out of the backfield in a 20-10 victory on Sept. 16, 2013 that was the last win over the Steelers until Sunday.
"However you can get him the ball, he's done that a couple times against Pittsburgh taking check-downs and taking it to the house," Dalton said. "As soon as I got it to him, I knew there was a chance he was going to do it again.
"He was obviously a check down. He wasn't my first read so my eyes were downfield and I felt like they were getting a little pushed," Dalton said. "So I moved around and saw Gio—there wasn't anybody on him. So I had to give it to him, put Gio in the space and putting the ball in his hands is big. That was a big play. It got us down there and gave us a chance to score that touchdown."
Just like his work at the line of scrimmage, Dalton had to do a little improvising. Just like his 47th victory and 23rd on the road, it wasn't pretty. But it was enough to tie him with two Pittsburgh guys, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Steel City native Dan Marino, as well as Matt Ryan, for most road wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons. He also moved past John Elway and is one behind Marino and Tom Brady for most wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons.
The throw might have been almost underhanded, but it wasn't an underhanded compliment.
"Just Andy making a play," Green said. "He's playing lights out when the game matters the most. The fourth quarter. That's when you want your quarterback making plays."
Dalton, who came into the game leading the NFL in fourth quarter passing, laughed when asked if he works on that play.
"No. It's just kind of part of it. Just get it to him," Dalton said. "It's such a short throw, shovel, however you want to look at it. It's easier than taking your arm all the way back to throw it to him."
But his best throw might have been an interception, when he slung his arm back on third-and-25 and dropped back on the goal line with 6:39 left. He had Green open running past the safety and corner down the left sideline, but it was short and the ball bounded off Green's shoulder pad and Mitchel picked it off at the Steelers 27. When safety Robert Golden was called for blocking Green below the waist on the return, they got the ball at their own 34 when if the Bengals had to punt, they probably would have had it at midfield.
Instead, two plays later Roethlisberger threw his fateful interception to safety Shawn Williams at the Bengals 45.
"I don't know if that was the best play," Dalton said. "We had a chance to make that one and it didn't fall our way."
But they're 7-0. And Green was back to being impassive. Yet the edge was still there.
"We're playing for more than just to win the division," he said.