12-30-01, 5:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
What else can happen?
Quarterback Jon Kitna logged the Bengals' first 400-yard passing day in 11 years Sunday and led the Bengals from his own one-yard line in overtime to one of the most improbable wins in Cincinnati history, a 26-23 overtime stunner of the Steelers.
Neil Rackers ended the marathon on a 31-yard field goal with 4:08 left in overtime, but that wasn't even half this story.
The Bengals had seemingly beat the AFC Central champion Steelers on Kitna's 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Farmer with 37 seconds left at Paul Brown Stadium. But Rackers shoved the extra point to the right and put the game into overtime tied at 23.
Look at the numbers and try to figure out what happpened because the 63,751 shivering in the 15-20 degree weather couldn't.
At the end of regulation, against the NFL's No. 1 defense, Kitna had the biggest day of his career by throwing a Bengal-record 62 passes for 369 yards. Wide receiver Darnay Scott had the club's first 100-yard day in three months with 113 yards on seven catches. Wide receiver Peter Warrick had a career-high 91 yards. Running back Corey Dillon averaged four yards for his 21 carries that gained 91 yards.
But the Bengals couldn't get their two offensive touchdowns until 2:46 left in the game and no help from Rackers after he had already missed two short field goals earlier in the game.
The Bengals cut the lead to 23-17 with 2:46 left on a drive set up by rookie defensive end Justin Smith's interception off end Reinard Wilson's tip. Kitna hit wide receiver Ron Dugans for a six-yard touchdown pass with 2:46 left.
The Bengals got the ball back on the on-side kick when Steeler Bobby Shaw didn't come down with Rackers' popup and Riall Johnson recovered at the Bengals 45.
As they have often during this 4-11 season, the Bengals set the bad karma on their first drive of the day. They got no points despite putting the nose of the ball on the Steelers' goal line with a first down and then watched Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart hit 16 of his first 26 throws for 230 yards and three touchdown passes of at least 28 yards.
But it was hard to fault a defense that hadn't given up more than 20 points since Nov. 11 and hadn't given up more than 16 in the four previous December games. They forced five turnovers in regulation, two on interceptions from cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn.
Stewart's fakery led to what looked to be the games's back-breaking play, Steelers running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala's 37-yard touchdown on a throw-back screen that gave Pittsburgh a 23-10 lead with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
But the drive was set up when Dillon fumbled at the Pittsburgh 47,
The Bengals had a shot to tie it on their first drive of the second half that took 14 plays. But facing a fourth-and-six from the Steelers 23, Kitna short-hopped a throw to a wide-open Warrick.
Dillon kept dealing on the drive as he neared the first 100-yard game against the Steelers since Priest Holmes got them 11 games ago in Kansas City.
On one play, Dillon spun away from inside linebacker Joey Porter and took it outside for a 10-yard gain.
But Porter got his revenge on the first play of the next series and the Bengals sitting with great field position at near midfield. Inside linebacker Earl Holmes knifed into the hole with defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen and the ball popped out of Dillon's arm and Porter recovered at the Pittsburgh 47.
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 Scott's 49-yard catch 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.
The Bengals twice jammed the ball inside the Steelers 9 in the first half and Rackers missed field goals of 32 and 28 yards.
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.