With everything decided during the day, the scenarios entering Sunday night were clear. Win and we got Baltimore at home, lose and we were headed to Indianapolis.
With Troy out of the lineup, James Harrison got the honor of running out of the tunnel last.
The crowd was absolutely electric, the most excited it has been all season. An impromptu "Here We Go Steelers" chant rolled during the pregame.
The Steelers won the toss and took the ball. Bell broke free on a short pass and got us near midfield but we couldn't quite get into Bengals territory.
Dalton took a shot deep down the sideline for Green but Brice McCain made a savvy play to slow down in front of Green and not let him get to the ball. The Bengals couldn't do anything else and punted to AB.
Brown started to the right but there wasn't much there...
...gave a sharp cutback to the left, caught a few blocks...
...pushed Shamarko into the punter..
...and was goooooone
The Bengals took advantage of the Steelers being in nickel and ground out some yards with Jeremy Hill, getting into Steelers territory. With the ground game rolling, they made the bizarre decision to go to the air not once, but twice. The second was their undoing as Dalton badly overthrew Green and Brice McCain made a Willie Mays over the shoulder interception.
AB dropped his first pass of the season on 3rd down and a terrible punt set the Bengals up in Steelers territory.
The Bengals didn't waste much time marching right back to the red zone. On 3rd down, Dalton found Gio Bernard running a crossing route and Bernard outran everyone to the corner, leaping into the end zone.
The Steelers were able to pick up one first down but a bad snap at the feet of Ben was recovered by the Bengals and things started to look bad.
The Bengals got into field goal range with a short out to AJ Green but didn't get much further after Cam Heyward stormed the backfield and sacked Dalton.
Trailing for the first time, the offense ramped things up. Ben hit AB to get things going then overcame Bell losing yards by hitting Will Johnson (!) wide open on the sidelines to get us to 3rd and manageable where he hooked up with Heath down the middle to get us across midfield. In Bengals territory, Ben wanted to take a shot deep but everything was covered so he dumped it off to Bell who left 3 Bengals laying on the field and took off up the sideline to get us into the red zone. The drive stalled out from there but Suisham tied the game.
Dalton tried to go deep for AJ Green again but Green tipped the ball up in the air and Brice McCain came down with his second pick of the night, taking it all the way back into Bengals territory.
Two plays later, a WR screen finally worked when Ben hit Bryant with Wheaton and Heath in front of him. Bryant split their blocks and there was no one in front of him as he waltzed into the end zone.
The Bengals ground out one first down but Sean Spence recorded his first career sack at a big time and forced a punt.
The Steelers got the ball back with just over 2 minutes to play and 2 timeouts, which led everyone to wonder how Mike Tomlin would screw up the clock management on this one. However, Ben worked the 2-minute drill to perfection, hitting guys along the sidelines or in space where they were able to get out of bounds, so Tomlin couldn't waste a timeout until the Steelers got into the red zone. Ben spread the ball around beautifully and got the benefit of a pass interference call that took the ball to the 10. Tomlin used a timeout after a short pass to Bell and Ben couldn't connect with Brown on two attempts, bringing on Suisham who bounced one off the upright and in.
The Bengals threw two short passes to run it out. Antwon Blake threw a hit on Bernard so hard his grandparents felt it.
The Bengals got the ball to start the second half and tried to get fancy with a wildcat snap to Sanu and he tried to throw deep to Green but Blake had solid coverage and the Bengals got flagged for holding on the play. They were able to overcome the penalty and get into 3rd and short where the defense made a stand but Dalton moved the chains on 4th down with a QB keeper. The defense had seen enough and held from there, forcing a 50-yard field goal attempt that Nugent pushed right.
The teams traded 3-and-outs and the Steelers finally got some good field position.
On the first play, Ben hit Bell on a slant coming across the middle and Bell took a low hit from Reggie Nelson, immediately going down and grabbing his knee. In an instant, all the air was sucked out of the crowd. Bell was able to get off and walk to the sideline but everyone basically held their breath for the rest of the drive.
The Bengals started picking their way down the field, mixing in runs and short passes. Dalton did a good job hitting the short spots in the Steelers zone and the Bengals made their way into Steelers territory as the quarter ended.
The entire stadium was still shook up about Le’Veon Bell and didn’t have much life as the Bengals worked their way into the red zone, not even facing a 3rd down the rest of the drive. Hill got them down the 5 then Dalton hit Gresham in the flat who bowled through 3 tacklers to get to the end zone.
Josh Harris, fresh off the practice squad, got a carry and broke through the right side of the line, streaking down the sideline for 55 yards but it was called back on a questionable holding call. Dri Archer did something useful and caught a pass that he almost turned into a first down. Harris got a few more carries then Ben hit AB on a 15-yard out-route that is basically impossible to stop. With the ball at midfield, the offense couldn’t do much else and in a weird statistical anomaly, Maurkice Pouncey gets credit for a reception after catching a pass that was deflected by a defensive lineman. With just under 6 minutes to go, Tomlin calls for a fake punt and Brad Wing throws a pass right to a Bengals player.
Suddenly, the Bengals had a ton of life, down just 3 with the ball at their own 40. They had plenty of time left on the clock and went right back to the short passing game mixed with runs to get the ball into Steelers territory. Dalton hit AJ Green on a deep in and Antwon Blake made a great play coming around Green and ripping the ball out then diving on it. Mike Mitchell lowered the boom on Green and he stayed down for a long time.
With just under 4 minutes to play, the Steelers needed to take some time off the clock which seemed like a tall order with Dri Archer and Josh Harris in the backfield. Enter Antonio Brown. On 3rd and 8 Brown got open with a savvy move to get behind Kirkpatrick and Ben hit him on the money.
AB put one move on the safety and was f***ing goooooone
TO THE HOUSE
ALL ANTONIO BROWN DOES IS MAKE BIG PLAYS
MVP MVP MVP MVP
It was mostly just going through the motions from there as the Bengals to the ball back with under 3 minutes to play but Jason Worilds took care of things by sacking Dalton on 3rd down. The Bungles went for it on 4th down and Dalton checked down to Bernard on 4th and 19. Yeah, that went well.
The Steelers took over and could’ve just kneeled it out but Ben was tied with Drew Brees for the passing title so they tried to run a play to get Ben an easy throw but there was a fumble in the backfield that Josh Harris fell on. Ben didn’t get another shot at winning the passing title and it was victory formation time.
We are the Kings in the North
Mike Tomlin had some strong words for Reggie Nelson after the game
Remember this one for a while, because this was the best single season by a receiver in Steelers history.
For the moment, WE RUN THE NORTH
But don't rest now. Baltimore is coming to town for a Saturday night playoff game.
Here we go.