Given how the Steelers defense had played against the Saints, everyone knew this game was going to be on the offense to win.
There was a bit of a feeling-out period at the start of this one (a full period in fact) as the teams traded punts back and forth for 15 minutes. You could feel the trepidation growing as, like against the Saints, Le'Veon Bell had over 40 yards in the first quarter but there wasn't much to show for it on the scoreboard. You knew the Cincinnati passing game would explode at some point against our secondary, it was only a matter of time. Neither team made it much past midfield in the first quarter with the closest scoring chance coming when Cincinnati faked a punt at the Steelers 40 but DHB and Golden sniffed it out. Unfortunately the Steelers couldn't get the ball into Bengals territory.
On the first play of the second, Ben converted a big 3rd down to Wheaton who made a great cut to get past a defender at the sticks and rolled down the sideline for 16 yards into Bengals territory. Ben roped one to Lance Moore down the seam and all of a sudden we were in striking distance. Le'Veon Bell almost scored (he probably did but it wasn't reviewed) after scampering to the goal line with a check-down pass. Tomlin wisely didn't waste a challenge and the Steelers cashed in on a play-action pass to Heath.
In a story we've seen too many times this year, the Steelers offense gave the team the lead and the defense gave it right back. The Bengals picked up a first down then Dalton took a shot down the field to a wide open AJ Green between a deep Troy and clueless Mike Mitchell. Troy actually made the tackle but it only took 2 more plays for the Bengals to find a tight end wide open in the end zone because Mitchell has no clue.
The offense can't make anything out of a 9-yard run by Bell on first down and the ball is heading right back to Cincinnati.
The defense seemingly comes up with a big play when Bill Gay rips a deep pass out of the hands of Brandon Tate but it gets called back on an illegal use of hands penalty on Worilds. From there, Dalton took things over, working them into field goal range then running a read-option that fooled our entire defense and allowed him to run 20 yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers got the ball back with 3 minutes left and only got 2 plays off before the two minute warning. Thankfully, they were a 9-yard run by Bell and 17-yard catch by AB. With 3 timeouts left, The Steelers were able to be a bit methodical in working their way down the field but strangely burned up two of their timeouts in the first 30 seconds of game time. Tomlin finally let some clock roll so that Cincinnati wouldn't have a chance to counter when the Steelers got into field goal range. Ben hit AB on a slant on 3rd down to move the sticks and get down to the 5. Unfortunately, with only 30 seconds left and because this team doesn't know what urgency is, we had to burn our last timeout. Ben threw 3 terrible passes into the end zone which were the worst 3 shots he's taken since his bachelor party.
The Bengals got the ball first and after a couple short passes to Green and Sanu, it looked like they were going to march right back down the field. Thankfully, a false start put them in 3rd and long and Dalton couldn't hook up with Green.
The drive got off to a rocky start but Ben hit Bryant on a 3rd down slant to keep the pulse alive then used 2 passes to AB to overcome a Mike Adams holding penalty and get us into Bengals territory. The well was open and Ben kept going there, hitting AB down the right side for 32 yards to get into the red zone. From there, The Prescription took over and after two carries caught a dump-down pass on 3rd down and just out ran everyone to the corner.
Threw in the Hines Ward Super Bowl XL jump for good measure.
The defense came up with a stop after the offense took the lead but the offense couldn't add on either.
It came back to bite us two plays later when Dalton went deep for Green again and Mitchell did his best matador impression and totally whiffed, letting Green easily stride into the end zone for an 81 yard score.
On the first play from scrimmage, the dam broke. DeCastro and Heath pulled around and obliterated two Bengals out of the hole and Le'Veon Bell was off to the races down the sideline. Bell didn't quite have the breakaway speed to finish it off and got run down from behind but not after a 53-yard romp down the left sideline. The Steelers couldn't move the ball any closer and Suisham cut into the lead.
Things looked troublesome as the last time the Bengals were on the field AJ Green was 1000 yards open in the secondary. But on the second play, the entire game changed. Dalton tried to run a read-option but Dalton dropped the ball on the wrap and Arthur Moats recovered for a HUGE turnover.
The Steelers didn't take long. After a 3rd down conversion on an out-route to AB, The Prescription followed some blocks from DeCastro and Heath and ran through about 6 Bengals defenders to hit paydirt.
Tomlin opted to go for 2 and Heath made a great recovery after getting knocked down at the line to find himself open in the end zone for the conversion.
AJ Green caught another pass to get the Bengals near midfield but an illegal block in the back penalty set them back and they couldn't recover. A good punt pinned the Steelers back at the 6.
Le'Veon Bell had been grinding up the Bengals so their defense was totally shellshocked on the first play when Ben went play-action and bombed one down the right sideline for Martavis Bryant who was streaking open behind the Bengals secondary.
Bryant caught it in stride and the rest was history*.
* Technically, the second-longest play in Steelers history at 94 yards behind Mike Wallace's 95-yarder in Arizona in 2011.
Haven't seen a Bengal burned that bad since the end of The Jungle Book.
In an instant, what was a close game wasn't close at all. The Bengals went 3-and-out and Andy Dalton got banged up after taking a shot from Stephon Tuitt.
A terrible punt gave the Steelers great field position at midfield and The Prescription took over. Bell hammered out 21 yards on 3 carries before Ben went to the air and hit AB to move the chains on 3rd down. The Steelers went to the well of the counter play again and DeCastro and Heath paved the way for Bell around the left end, running untouched for a 22-yard score to put the nail in the coffin.
Jason Campbell (how is he still in the league?) came in for the Bengals and that was pretty much it. The defense held.
Josh Harris got some token carries as the Steelers just wanted to burn clock and didn't want Bell taking any unnecessary hits.
Cincinnati got a last gasp after the 2-minute warning but it was purely ceremonial. Arthur Moats strip-sacked Campbell and Worilds recovered.
Le'Veon Bell is the first NFL player since Walter Payton to have 200+ yards from scrimmage in 3 straight games.
Don't look now, but the Steelers have scored 40+ points 3 times this season, which is more than they did the entire time Bruce Arians was here. Also, the Steelers have scored 30+ points in 7 of 13 games. The last time they had 7 30-point games in a season was 1979.
More importantly, on top of the wild card and a half game back in the division: