By Daniel Benjamin
Ben Roethlisberger orchestrated another comeback win on Monday night.
The Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 10-2 on the season with a 23-20 come-from-behind victory against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7). Pittsburgh trailed most of the game, falling behind 17-0 late in the second quarter, but they outscored the Bengals 20-3 in the second half, tallying 13 points in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied at 20, the Steelers defense forced a three-and-out. Taking over at their own 41-yard line, Roethlisberger engineered an eight-play, 38-yard drive to set up the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Chris Boswell as time expired. It was Boswell’s third game-winner of the season and the fourth of his career.
Roethlisberger, who was 3-for-3 for 26 yards during the final drive, has now led the Steelers to 31 fourth quarter comebacks and 42 game-winning drives. Pittsburgh’s victory extends the team’s win streak to seven. They also maintained their edge over New England (10-2) for the top spot in the AFC playoff race.
Roethlisberger didn’t have a great game, though he did complete 24-of-40 passes for 290 yards, marking it the fourth time in the last five games he has produced that many yards. He also threw for two touchdowns to give him four straight games of multiple touchdown passes. Most of his completions were on short passes.
Le’Veon Bell was excellent. The running back was held below 100 yards for the fifth straight game, but he did a nice job with his 18 carries. Bell, who totaled 76 rushing yards, probed his way to several tough yards; 13 of his runs were for five yards or less. He also had two runs of 10 or more yards.
Bell did most of his work as a pass catcher. He caught five passes for a season-high 105 yards, which included a dump-off pass that he turned into a 35-yard touchdown after tight walking down the sideline.
Antonio Brown continued his superb and clutch play. He hauled in eight passes for 101 yards and a score. Brown, who has three straight 100-yard games, has 28 receptions and six touchdowns during this stretch.
The offense did nothing in the first half, and Roethlisberger threw his fifth pick in five games as he tried to force a throw to Eli Rodgers in the middle of the field.
Penalties were an issue on the offensive side. Juju Smith-Schuster had two flags thrown on him for one play after leveling linebacker Vontaze Burfict- an unnecessary roughness penalty for his helmet-to-helmet hit and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting, as the rookie stood over Burfict staring down at him following the hit. Bell was also called for unnecessary roughness for a hit on Burfict following Rothlisberger’s interception.
The loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is the leader of the defense, took a major toll. Shazier suffered a back injury when he tackled Josh Malone after a short gain on the Bengals’ opening possession. The Steelers did hold Cincinnati to a field goal on that possession.
Wide receiver A.J. Green treated Coty Sensabaugh like a rag doll on the Bengals’ second possession, tossing him aside to create separation on his eight-yard touchdown catch. The Steelers weren’t able to get any pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton in the first half.
Pittsburgh played a lot better in the second half, as they were able to generate pressure on Dalton. They forced the Bengals to punt on four of their five possessions, which included three three-and-outs.
Linebacker Vince Williams picked up the slack for Shazier, the team’s leading tackler, finishing with nine tackles and one sack.
Special Teams: B-
Boswell made all five of his kicks, including three field goals. His game-winner was not the only last-second field goal of the game, as he made a 30-yarder as time expired at the end of the first half. Boswell has now made his last eight field goal attempts.
Punter Jordan Berry once again had a nice game, pinning the Bengals inside the 20 on three of his four punts. He has had seven of his last eight kicks downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Kick coverage was also outstanding. Reserve cornerback Brian Allen made a nice tackle on a Berry punt late in the third quarter, forcing the Bengals to start at their own 13. Also, following the Steelers’ touchdown to knot the game up at 20, Coty Sensabaugh did an excellent job containing kick returner Alex Erickson and forced him out of bounds at the Bengals’ 12.
Special teams penalties were a major problem. A holding penalty by J.J. Wilcox wiped away a Martavis Bryant 96-yard kickoff return that would have made the score 20-17 late in the third. The Steelers were forced to punt the ball away after starting at their own 16-yard line.
Another Wilcox holding penalty cost the Steelers field position on a punt return in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers came out sluggish yet again on the road. While the players also need to be held accountable for not being ready to play, it is one of the main jobs of the coaches to get the players focused to play right from the opening kickoff. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn’t do a very good job with his play calling in the opening half, particularly on third down as the Bengals started out 6-for-8 in those situations.
Mike Tomlin and his staff do get high marks for making second-half adjustments as well as regrouping after the emotional loss of Shazier.
The Steelers return home to face their arch-nemesis Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens (7-5), currently fifth in the AFC playoff race, have won three straight following their 44-20 victory over the Detroit Lions. It is Baltimore’s longest winning streak since the beginning of the 2016 season (Sept. 11-25).