The zone read gaveth and the zone read taketh away for Andy Dalton on Sunday.
The Steelers came into Paul Brown Stadium Sunday and mauled two centerpieces of the Green-Dalton Era when they handed the Bengals their second straight home loss by 21 points to a division foe with a running game that rolled up 193 yards.
The home-field edge, particularly in December, and stout run defense has marked seasons of three straight playoff appearances. But after they got through with the Bengals, 42-21, the Steelers put a fourth straight postseason on hold in the wild, whacky AFC North.
That 14-game unbeaten streak at PBS snapped by Cleveland Nov. 6 is now a distant memory after the Bengals allowed their most points at home since a 49-31 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 21, 2010 with the most rushing yards by a back against the Bengals since Ray Rice went off in the 2011 season finale.
It's the first time since Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was the Bengals head coach in 2002 that the Bengals have lost consecutive home games by at least 21 points.
It hurt doubly because running back Le'Veon Bell seemed to get most of his 185 yards behind a simple power play featuring right guard David DeCastro and tight end Heath Miller either motioning or pulling to their left. That's how Bell knocked off a 53-yard run, the next biggest play of the day next to Andy Dalton's fumble. It was the longest run against them this season and came after three games they allowed 75 or fewer yards.
It popped on the first snap after Dalton and A.J. Green had given the Bengals a 21-17 lead on the last play of the third quarter with their 81-yard hookup.
"We only had given him (62) in the first half. I thought we were holding our own," said nose tackle Domata Peko. "But that 50-yarder got them over 100 and that got them the momentum. A lot of times we had a guy in the hole and just didn't take them down. Missing tackles. We have to learn to wrap up and grab cloth. Much props to Le'Veon Bell. He's one of the best in the league, but we have to play the run better. Especially after the three games we just played."
The Bengals had held foes to three yards per carry in their three-game winning streak until Bell blew it up with the power play. Peko, a huge ice bag on his elbow from last week's injury, shook his head.
"Same play. Same play," he said.
"It was a stutter or whatever you call it," Peko said of what the Steelers called "a counter." "He was getting to the outside getting one-on-ones with the smaller guys and making people miss….Our tackling was horrible."
The loss at home seemed to hurt doubly because it came on the heels of the first three-game road winning streak in club history. The Green-Dalton Bengals came into Sunday 5-2 at PBS in December.
"It's very disappointing to come back home where we were supposedly unbeatable," Green said. "To come in here in your first home game in three weeks and take an 'L,' in this fashion (is hard). We were leading after the first three quarters and then come out and lay an egg and they put up 25 points, it's kind of disappointing."
ZONE READS CONFUSION: Confusion caused the turning point of Sunday's 42-21 loss to the Steelers, quarterback Andy Dalton's fumble with 12:45 left in the fourth quarter off a zone read play with rookie running back Jeremy Hill.
When Dalton pulled the ball to keep it, the ball hit Hill's hip and Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats recovered at the Bengals 24. It was all downhill from there in the form of running back Le'Veon Bell's two fourth-quarter touchdowns on the way to 185 down-hill yards rushing.
And there was still confusion after the game.
Dalton: "He thought I was giving it and I tried to take it."
Hill: "It happened so fast. I think he tried to keep it."
Dalton had both running backs in the backfield and had Giovani Bernard lined up for an option pitch on the edge.
"In that situation, I assumed he would pull it just from the look before the play even started," Hill said. "They didn't have anybody on the perimeter. It would be Gio and him on the corner and he could have pitched it or kept it. I pretty much knew he was going to keep it...It happened so fast, I'd be lying if I told you I knew what happened."
"I guess my pocket wasn't loose enough for him to keep it. We'll work on it this week and make sure we'll fix it."
Earlier in the game, Dalton had pulled it and kept it for a 20-yard run, the longest touchdown run ever by a Bengals quarterback.
Hill cited offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's mantra that the offense has to do whatever it can to make things easier for Dalton and he took the blame.
"It's on me at the end of day," Hill said. "I have to make sure everything is fine in that way. He's trying to get the right read and trying to make sure everything is proper. I have to make it easy for him to get the ball in there or keep it or whatever he needs to do with the football and help him out that way. He has a lot on his plate. It's on me to get it fixed this week."
TAYLOR SEES GREEN: This is how much the Steelers think of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green:
Since Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson lit them up last year, the Steelers had been not shadowing the other team's best receiver with 12-year veteran cornerback Ike Taylor.
Until Sunday, when Taylor wanted Green even though it was just his second game back from a broken arm.
Bad idea. Green had a career-high 224 yards on 11 catches for the second best day ever by a Bengals wide receiver.
"For the past couple of years, he was killing me. He had my answer," Green said. "I was trying to do different things.
"It was a big game and I was trying to be aggressive," he said. "Emotionally, I was just trying to make plays when my number was called."
The only time Taylor didn't cover Green is when Green went into the slot, which is when he caught a high, punt-like 56-yard post that set up the first touchdown as he ran through safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu.
On the first one, Polamalu was way late getting over to help Mitchell. "Troy was yelling at him. I don't know what was going on," Green said.
On the touchdown, Taylor was nowhere near him and Green screwed Mitchell into the ground with a cut back after he caught it.
After that play, the final one of the third quarter, head coach Mike Tomin took out Taylor because of knee and shoulder issues.
"He did a good of mixing it up, putting me in the slot a lot to give them different looks," said Green of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Dalton sat out a play in the fourth quarter after he took a shot to the chest as he was throwing a pass, but said he was fine...
Left guard Clint Boling started his first NFL game at right tackle and the man whom started there last week, Marshall Newhouse played a slew of snaps as an extra tackle...Newly-signed right tackle Eric Winston took a few snaps there late in the game...
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu lined up as a Wildcat quarterback once and ran it for no gain. Hill finished with 46 yards on eight carries and Giovani Bernard had 17 on six carries. The Bengals' 21 carries were their third lowest of the season, behind the Indy (12) and New England (18) games...
Sanu had two catches for 16 yards and a drop. According to profootballfocus.com, he came into the game leading the NFL with 12 drops...