The Bengals flex their muscles on Nov. 15, 2009 to out-Steeler the Steelers to win the brutal War of 18-12 that gives them all the tiebreakers and puts them on the verge of a division sweep as well as in the hunt for a top AFC seed at 7-2. Only a game against the lowly Browns in two weeks stands between the Bengals and a 6-0 AFC North record after the Bengals hold the Steelers to three third-down conversions and four field goals less than two months after they beat Pittsburgh in the last minute. “To me the best thing about this team is the places we’ve won,” says Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer after his unit silences Big Ben on 12 of 15 third-down tries. “Green Bay. Baltimore. It’s hard to win in Pittsburgh. You don’t just go to Lambeau and win. We’ve won at some real Holy Grails.” As the Bengals gash the proud Super Bowl champions on the game’s final drive while keeping the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, Steelers defensive end James Harrison responds with a right cross to the face of Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth that gives Cincinnati a precious 15 yards on a day the teams combine for fewer than 500. “They didn’t like it. They didn’t like the fact we were running it right at them,” Whitworth says. “It was frustration. That’s what they’re supposed to do, and they didn’t like it when we punched back.”
The Bengals defense out-Bens quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by putting an end to his out-of-pocket madness with four sacks, 10 passes defensed, and 10 straight third-down stops to end the game as Zimmer out-LeBeaus Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and the Bengals special teams out-do themselves. Shayne Graham takes advantage of the 70-degree weather and an uncharacteristic lush Heinz Field to kick four field goals while a pair of rookies, running back Bernard Scott and punter Kevin Huber, supply the icing on the cake. Scott’s 96-yard kick return for his first NFL TD serves as the game’s only touchdown and Huber’s 48-yard punt out of his end zone as the third quarter dies forces a fair catch at midfield. With the Bengals down 3-0 Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons calls for a kick return down their sideline, which is to Scott’s left. Naturally, kicker Jeff Reed hits a bad kick down the right sideline and Scott has to range over to catch it on a hop before setting sail. “It was really the worst possible kick for the play that was on,” Simmons says. “But give Bernard credit. He read out the blocks and that’s the one thing you have to have for a good return; blocking.”
How sweet is this one? “I’m almost diabetic right now,” says linebacker Brandon Johnson “I’m so excited right now I can barely contain myself. It feels good. 5-and-0 in the division, I’ve never experienced anything like this. On to the next one. Bring on the Raiders.” They wait in Oakland next week. ““Our divisional opponents are so tough, and we focus so hard on winning each divisional game,” says safety Chris Crocker. “We have such intensity and such a focus. We know if we can beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh, then we’re going to be right in the thick of things come December and on into January. That’s really been our whole thing – win at home, and beat your divisional opponents."