It looked like for all the world the Bengals were going to repeat last year's Paul Brown Stadium miracle by overcoming a double-digit Pittsburgh lead in the fourth quarter with seconds to spare.
But with 34 seconds left on fourth-and-five from the Steelers 12, rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley couldn't hang on to quarterback Carson Palmer's pass over the middle at the 4, where outside linebacker James Harrison and cornerback Ike Taylor converged on him and knocked the ball out.
"Looking back I could have sat down a little quicker," Shipley said. "I wanted to make sure I got to the first-down marker … I don't know if they knocked it or what … I felt like I had it for a second."
The Steelers blitzed Palmer the entire second half, as usual, but on that last play they dropped into a zone.
"It was just a really tough catch — a really tough play to make in between to really big physical guys," Palmer said. "It was a really tough play for a young guy to make. He's capable of making that play, and I know that he's frustrated and feels terrible about it. It would have been an amazing catch. That's not going to change my thought of trying to get him the ball, because I know Ship is a great receiver and is capable of making great plays and great catches. He's going to shrug this one off and when he gets in that situation again, he'll make that play. At fourth and five, they know that we're probably not going to run the ball."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Special teams were brutal. Bernard Scott fumbled away the opening kick that resulted in a quick Steelers touchdown. Kevin Huber had his first punt blocked that led to a field goal. Mike Nugent missed field goals wide left from 51 and 45 yards.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said a high snap might have led to the second miss, but Nugent said no.
"Both of them came off my foot badly; I just didn't hit them," he said. "I didn't have a good week of practice."
It appeared that Steelers cornerback William Gay looped around and through the middle of what SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga called zone blocking on Huber's punt. But Gay went through an unblocked zone.
Safety Roy Williams, who hasn't had an interception or fumble recovery in the last three injury-plagued years, had both Monday in his first game back since spraining his knee Oct. 3. His recovery of cornerback Leon Hall's forced fumble set up Cincinnati's first touchdown and his interception of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's pass to tight end Heath Miller with 10:06 left in the game set up the last one.
"He tried to lead him (on the sideline) and I got there in time," Williams said.
» With 10 catches for 141 yards, Owens logged his third 100-yard game and the most by a Bengals wide receiver against Pittsburgh since Dick LeBeau became the Steelers defensive coordinator in 2004. Owens is on pace to set the club's receiving yards record with 1,540, now held by Chad Ochocinco with 1,440. He's also on pace to have 110 catches and 14 touchdowns. He needs 14 TDs, 1,300 yards, and 100 balls to hit his top incentive and make his full $4 million. At the halfway point, he now has as many catches as he had in 16 games with Buffalo last year (55) and two more touchdowns (seven) and 59 fewer yards than he had in all of '09 (770). His career high is 1,451 in 2000 in San Francisco.
» Which brings us to The Ocho, who had just one catch for 15 yards and looked like he was going to blow a gasket just like he did the last time he was on Monday night against the Patriots in 2007. After jawing with Palmer and throwing his hands in the air, The Ocho even got yelled at by left tackle Andrew Whitworth. After Andre Smith's hold in the third quarter wiped out his eight-yard catch, Ochocinco spiked the ball for what would have been a delay of game penalty (the Steelers accepted the holding penalty instead). Later, head coach Marvin Lewis pulled Ochocinco for a play as the Bengals scored their last touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But unlike the New England game, he seemed to get back in control. And this time he was talking to his quarterback.
"He was upset, but we've got to play football," Lewis said. "If he's not going to get it done right, he's got to come take an opportunity to freshen up his mind and get right back in the game. It was good that he got out of the game so he could concentrate and get his job done. When you're playing that position, you can't dictate when the ball comes to you. The coverage is going to dictate it, and the quarterback isn't going to throw the ball in the coverage, and sometimes it's frustrating."
The Ocho had a long talk with Palmer before he left the locker room in his leather jacket, as down as he's ever been seen. It's the first time Ochocinco has had just one catch in a game since the '08 opener. Don't count the '09 finale in New Jersey when the Jets blanked him in a warmup game for the playoffs and he only played a half. Not counting his rookie season, it's only the third time (Atlanta in '02 and Pittsburgh in '06) Ochocinco has had just one catch. And the second time at the hands of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Bengals head coach his first two seasons in the league.
"Tell LeBeau to give me a break," The Ocho said. "I just want to be available. That (bleep) is frustrating. I need to give him a call … I feel like crying. You have to put yourself in my shoes week in and week out. Take away 85 and not allow him to do anything, that becomes frustrating. It's not a compliment."
Palmer sounded sympathetic.
"We talked about the situation. That's what Chad and I do well, which is communicate. We talked about what happened, and what went wrong, and how to fix it and how to move on," Palmer said of their postgame discussion. "It's just a frustrating thing for him. He wants to catch the ball and he wants to make an impact in the game. Unfortunately, he was unable to do that. He's an emotional player and I'm an emotional player. That's part of football. That's part of what happens in this game. I love his competitiveness. I love his fire, and his want and his desire for the ball — and to contribute. He just got frustrated, and that's part of the deal."
» The local and national postgame analysis battered the Bengals pass protection. They allowed four sacks, five quarterback hits, and a bunch of pressures. It looked to be the toughest of right tackle Andre Smith's three starts as outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley ended up with two sacks. The entire nation had its eyes on Smith when Lewis pulled him for a play in the third quarter after his hold on Woodley around the edge wiped out an eight-yard completion.
But when Dennis Roland replaced Smith and gave up a sack to outside linebacker James Harrison on the next snap, Smith came back on the next series in a sequence that has to have the Bengals severely concerned about their right tackle.
"I think he wanted to give me time to clear my mind. I did a pretty good job when I went back in," Smith said. "I need to use better technique."
Former Bengals offensive lineman Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst, agrees. He spent the broadcast talking about how Smith struggled with his footwork and wondered why the Bengals didn't give him more help in pass protection. He also said it wasn't Smith's fault he was charged with an illegal formation, but that gives him five penalties in is three starts this season.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth looked to hold up OK on Harrison. Besides the sack off Roland, Harrison had six tackles, three of them for losses. Whitworth, wearing an ice pack on the back of his neck, wasn't happy about a holding call on a play in the first half that got a first down and blew up a drive that could have given the Bengals a 14-10 lead. But a Palmer interception on third-and-13 two snaps after the hold translated into a 17-7 Steelers lead.
"I'm upset at the call because of where he was standing," Whitworth said. "There's no possible way he could see if it was holding or not. Not that he made the call, but that he could make it from there is what I was mad about, but that's part of the game."
It looked like Whitworth would have to go out at one point, but even though he could barely walk he waved Roland back to the sidelines.
"At that point in the game, if both your legs can move," Whitworth said, "you've got to be in there if you're in my position and you're the guy protecting Carson's back. I'm not going anywhere. I told him that."
Harrison told him something else after the game when he sought out Whitworth.
"I think that's the first time I've had one of those elite guys like that come up to find me," Whitworth said. "So he came and found me, and he just told me, 'Great job and stay healthy.' So it's definitely a good feeling to play an elite guy like that and play well."
» Backup defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, a seventh-round pick in '09. played in his first game Monday after 24 games on the practice squad and wasted no time making an impact. He was on the field for Williams' interception and apeared to enrage Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams with his block. They tangled after the play right in front of the Bengals bench and a ref and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson appeared to pull McDonald away. A flag flew and Adams was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the ball on the Bengals 36.
» Do you think Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is going to get a letter from New York? After ripping NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this week for his decision-making on illegal hits, he gave Owens a questionable hit with what looked to be his head with 1:01 left on a great 20-yard-catch-and-hang-on.
"That's what I do," Owens said. "It was a great catch and tackle."
» Polamalu, got pinballed plenty for a Pro Bowl safety Monday. On Cedric Benson's one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Domata Peko played fullback and knocked Polamalu back to USC.
» Safety Chris Crocker suffered a calf strain in the third quarter, but came back.