Steelers rally knocks out Bengals, 24-20

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Jake Fisher got the start Sunday against the Steelers.

Rallying from a pair of 14-point deficits in the first half, the Steelers defense came out of the locker room to strangle the Bengals and shut them out in the second half on 38 yards while racking up a 24-20 victory on a day both the Ravens and Pittsburgh eliminated Cincinnati from the play-off chase Sunday before 62,096 at Paul Brown Stadium.

The 9-5 Steelers didn't take their first lead until 7:29 left in the game when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sifted a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eli Rogers working out of the slot against cornerback Josh Shaw to make it 24-20 and send the 5-8-1 Bengals to their fourth fourth-quarter loss of the season.

The Bengals defense played brilliantly much of the day, but got worn down. Trailing, 24-20, they had Pittsburgh looking at a third-and-eight but Roethlisberger,  putting the finishing touches on a 93.1 passer rating, hit tight end Ladarius Green over the middle in a zone behind linebacker Vontaze Burfict and in front of the secondary for a 28-yard play with three minutes left to end it.

But Burfict, with nine more tackles, and his guys pitched a gutty, good enough game to win. It took Roethlisberger flinging for 286 yards on 21 of 36 passing and Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell grinding out 93 yards on 23 carries, a veritable win since the Bengals snapped his four-game streak of 100-yard games after last week's Steelers-record 236 yards.

But that go-ahead touchdown drive was helped along by four defensive penalties. If you've seen this movie before, turn away. There were four penalties on four snaps, two holding calls on cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and an offsides on tackle Pat Sims on third-and-inches. Then Sims was called for roughing Bell trying to throw him back on a tackle.  

The Steelers looked to make an easy adjustment after giving up 20 points in the first half. With wide receiver A.J. Green missing his fourth straight game, the Steelers crowded the line of scrimmage with some times as many as 10 guys and dared them to throw it deep. Either they couldn't or wouldn't because they threw just one pass of at least 20 yards down field and it was a 25-yard completion to wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

On their first three possessions of the second half they punted for the first time in the game, suffered an interception, and then went three-and-out. While the Steelers had six pass plays of at least 20 yards, the Bengals had just that one and quarterback Andy Dalton could only offer a 60.3 passer rating on just 16 of 27 for 157 yards.

The game's first turnover came courtesy Dalton's interception on an underthrown ball over the middle that was intercepted by inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons at the end of the third quarter and the defense forced Chris Boswell's sixth field goal of the game on a 30-yarder with 12:25 left in the game that cut the Bengals' lead to 20-18

The Bengals had charged to a 20-9 half-time lead by scoring on all of their first-half possessions. But the Steelers began to suck away their momentum, starting with the first series of the second half for each team.

The Steelers parlayed Burfict's first personal foul of the season (a throw-down of Roethlisberger as he released the ball) into Boswell's fourth field goal of the game that cut it to 20-12. And that was followed by the Bengals' first punt of the day. The Bengals and their offensive line had done a marvelous job in the first half shutting out a Steelers defense that came into the game with 23 sacks in their last six games.

But on their first series of the second half a James Harrison run blitz forced a loss and when tight end Tyler Eifert missed blitzing linebacker Ryan Shazier, he had the Steelers' only sack of the day to force Cincinnati's first punt.

The Bengals then couldn't keep Pittsburgh off the board despite some nice defensive plays. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins got their only sack of the day with 2:52 left in the third quarter, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick knocked away a pass from wide receiver Sammie Coates in the end zone and on third down the blitzing Shaw blocked a pass. It set up Boswell's fifth field goal of the game to cut it to 20-15 with 2:05 left in the third.

Riding the A.J. Green-like play of LaFell, a revived offensive line, and rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson's 72-yard kick return, the Bengals bolted to a 20-9 half-time lead.

A typical AFC North slugfest was personified by a massive collision between Burfict and Steelers right guard David DeCastro midway through the second quarter that sent Burfict to the locker room for the rest of the half with a concussion exam and DeCastro off the field for a play. Before that play, Burfict led a massive defensive effort that held the Steelers to three field goals, the last a 49-yarder with six seconds left in the half.

Burfict returned in the second half after the Bengals held Bell to 29 yards on seven carries in the first half and Roethlisberger to only 11 of 20 for 125 yards in the half.

With Burfict and linebacker Vincent Rey (hamstring) out of the game for that last drive of the half, Roethlisberger began to heat up with the Bengals failing to get hits on him in the pocket. Roethlisberger pulled off one of his vintage buy-time-for-receivers-backyard play when he hit old friend Cobi Hamilton for 21 yards on third-and-seven to set up Boswell.

But Boswell's biggest play came on Erickson's return when he somehow extended his pinky and prevented the AFC kick return leader from scoring his first NFL touchdown. The Bengals got the ball at the Steelers 26 and their strategy of running against the Steelers 'nickel package began to pay dividends. The Bengals drove into the red zone for their fourth consecutive series with running back Rex Burkhead (23 yards on six carries in the half) churning  for 22 yards on four carries.

The stunned Steelers, allowing just 50 points in their four-game winning streak, shut it down at the Steelers 3 on second down and gave them only Randy Bullock's second field goal in his Bengals' debut on a 22-yarder that made it 20-6 with2:46 left in the half.

The Steelers committed four crushing penalties in the half and the last one was a killer. Bell was called for a chop block on Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap and it wiped out Roethlisberger's 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown. They needed Boswell to save them again on a 49-yarder that made it 17-6 midway through the second quarter.

 LaFell led the opening 17-3 rampage with six catches for 77 yards. He also drew a 39-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone on rookie cornerback Artie Burns with Dalton rolling out of the pocket and launching it. But LaFell had just one catch the rest of the way and in the second half they rushed for eight yards.

That interference penalty set up Dalton's fourth-down sneak from the one-inch line after three shots from running back Jeremy Hill up the middle failed. The last one survived a Marvin Lewis challenge, but right guard Kevin Zeitler made it moot when he buried tackle Daniel McCullers to pave the way for Dalton's run that made it 10-3 on the final play of the first quarter.

They jacked it to 17-3 on the next drive with Dalton (10 of 16 in the half for 116 yards in the half) throwing quickly out of the shotgun to LaFell for that 25-yardser and a screen to rookie wide receiver Cody Core for 10 yards. Hill (44 yards on 14 carries in the half but 43 for 20 for the game), then pounded it behind monstrous blocks from Zeitler and fullback Ryan Hewitt for a four-yard touchdown run. When a Terrible Towel floated onto the field during Hill's celebration, he picked it up and balled it up in glee.

Turnabout was a play on the first series of the game. The Bengals were headed to a three-and-out on defensive end Stephon Tuitt 's sack, but he grabbed Dalton's facemask to keep a drive alive that turned in to a 14-play march that wiped out half the first quarter and gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead.

It will be recalled it was Tuitt that picked off Dalton's shovel pass 361 days ago and Dalton ended his season trying to tackle him when he broke his throwing thumb. Tuitt, the Steelers' best and most versatile down lineman, injured his knee on the play and was done for the day.

Dalton picked up 11 quickly on a slant to LaFell and then went no huddle in order to keep the Steelers nickel package on the field and that's why they ran it eight times for 18 yards, seven of them coming on a run by Hill up the middle. LaFell added another catch, an 18-yarder over the middle working on Burns to put them in the red zone.

After Burkhead converted a third-and-one for a yard at the Steelers 7 running behind the right side, Hill could only get three yards up the middle on two carries. On third down Dalton went for Eifert on a flag route, but Eifert was bracketed by safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden and the ball bounced off Eifert's hands. It was one of only three targets to the oft double-covered Eifert, who had one catch for nine yards for the game.

That brought on Bullock for his first kick as Bengal and his 23-yarder with 7:21 left in the first quarter gave them a 3-0 lead.

But it took the Steelers about four minutes to tie it and they only had 35 yards to go to get Boswell's  45-yard field goal. That was because tight end Tyler Kroft missed a tackle on Coates when he ran the kickoff to the Steelers 45. But led by Burfict, the Bengals forced a field goal when Pittsburgh had a first down from the Cincinnati 26. He stoned the pulling DeCastro on second down as Bell lost two to set up third –and-11. When Roethlisberger locked on Green, Burfict was draped all over Green and receiver and quarterback shot each other looks when the ball sailed a bit high through Green's hands.

PRE-GAME KICKS: With the Bengals trying to develop their tackles of the future, Jake Fisher drew his first NFL start at a pure tackle spot Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Steelers under one of the more formidable circumstances for a young offensive lineman.

As expected, wide receiver A.J. Green went from doubtful on Friday to inactive on Sunday with his injured hamstring that has now taken him out of a career-high four straight games.

Also, veteran long-snapper Clark Harris (groin) got the call after missing the last three games with his replacement, Tyler Ott, going on the inactive list. Harris is snapping for the Bengals' new kicker, Randy Bullock, claimed on waivers this past Tuesday, meaning that Harris is poised to snap to all six kickers in the Marvin Lewis era.

Fisher, the 2015 second-round pick out of Oregon, has been in a rotation at right tackle with veteran Eric Winston ever since Cedric Ogbuehi, the 2015 first-rounder, got benched two weeks ago. Fisher faces a Steelers defense with 23 sacks in the last six games carved out of a scheme where defensive coordinator Keith Butler is sending a variety of players at the quarterback.

Also inactive for the third straight game for the Bengals were rotational defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry (calf) and backup safety Derron Smith (thigh). The apparent healthy scratches were tight end C.J. Uzomah, guard Christian Westerman, and quarterback Jeff Driskel.

In a semi-surprise the Steelers de-activated backup running back DeAngelo Williams.

  

Cincinnati Bengals host Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in week 15 of the regular season 12/18/2016

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