Steelers able to overcome in victory
CINCINNATI — The Steelers did this one all wrong and still got it right in the end.
They must be in Cincinnati.
Chris Rainey, the No. 5 running back on their thinner-every-week depth chart, scored on an 11-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers switched courses by rallying to beat the Bengals, 24-17, Sunday night at Paul Brown Stadium and climb back into the AFC North race.
Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone and lost a fumble that created a touchdown, yet still was sharp and effective in the Steelers' home away from home.
They have won 11 of their past 12 in Cincinnati, and not many of those wins there have meant as much to a season as this one against the Bengals (3-4), who lost their third straight.
"I think it was a turn for the good, this game right here," right guard Ramon Foster said. "We know we can win no matter who's in there. That was the motto: 'This is all we got.' We had to dig this one out, and I'm glad we did."
Coupled with the Ray Lewis-less Ravens' 30-point loss to the Texans, the Steelers (3-3) won for the first time in their last five road games to get to within 1.5 games of the division lead. If they had lost and the Ravens had won, they would have been a daunting 3½ games out before midseason.
"We needed this," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We knew we had to bounce back. We knew what was at stake."
Maybe the Steelers should start circling this game on their calendars and call it TGIC - Thank Goodness It's Cincinnati week.
In a season in which they've blown four leads in the fourth quarter, the Steelers did this one in reverse.
They fell behind 14-3 amid a succession of four dropped passes, nearly a half-dozen penalties on kick returns and the two turnovers but came back despite not having injured star Troy Polamalu, their top two running backs in Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, and starting offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert.
"We knew what we had a problem with all this season: We couldn't win on the road, especially defensively, we couldn't hold the lead in the fourth quarter and we accomplished that," linebacker Larry Foote said. "Even though it's early in the season and we're 3-3, guys are excited. We're pumped up."
They were so thin on the offensive line, the only backups were rookie Kelvin Beachum, who has played in all of one NFL game, and former Pitt lineman John Malecki, who hasn't played in a game.
"I told the guys before the game when we broke it up, this is all we got, ain't nobody getting hurt," left guard Willie Colon said. "If anybody gets hurt, bandage it up and let's go."
As usual, give Roethlisberger a little, and he'll find a way to get a lot.
The Steelers had just enough of a running game with Jonathan Dwyer getting 122 yards in his first time in uniform in a month to free up a more-than-effective passing game.
"There was no letdown, even though our top two guys went down," Dwyer said. "It was an opportunity, and the next man is supposed to step up."
The Steelers outgained the Bengals, 431-185, as the NFL's second-worst rushing offense ran up a 167-80 advantage, despite the 44 yards BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained on the Bengals' first scoring drive.
Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 96 yards. Heath Miller made five catches — one for a touchdown. And Mike Wallace had seven receptions despite dropping three balls, prompting former Steelers coach Bill Cowher to tweet that the drops had to stop.
Dwyer was benched after fumbling in Oakland, and hadn't played since.
"That will make you hungry right there," Foster said. "Coach (Tomlin) put it on the board for everybody to know, he wasn't playing last weekend. I'm glad to see him respond."
The game swung late in the first half. Roethlisberger threw into double coverage in the end zone and was intercepted, then fumbled at his own 8 on consecutive offensive plays. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton took advantage by hitting ace receiver A.J. Green for an 8-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
But that was the only catch all night by Green, called one of the NFL's top three receivers by Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
"They did a great job taking me away from the game plan," Green said. "That's what great coaches do, take me away."
This time, Taylor let his play do his talking — he complained last week about the criticism the Steelers were getting after losing to Tennessee 26-23 — as the Steelers mostly quieted a receiver who already has seven TD catches. And Dalton never got anything going, finishing 14 of 28 for 105 yards.
Taylor was coming off one of the worst games of his career in Tennessee, when he was called for two penalties, gave up a touchdown and was frequently targeted by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as the Steelers lost on the final play.
"I'm not going to start off like I've been starting off. Every game is not going to be the same," Taylor said. "It was a back-to-the wall mentality, I had to fight my way out and everything turned out."
Foote said Taylor took that Titans game personally.
"I'm glad he bounced back," Foote said. "He knew he messed up far as penalties and stuff, and it was a great opportunity to come back. He was playing one of the best receivers in the league, and he did a great job."
After Shaun Suisham kicked one of his three field goals, a 47-yarder with 3:07 left in the first half, Dalton threw his fourth interception in two games, to LaMarr Woodley. Roethlisberger came right back to find Miller in the end zone, this time with 24 seconds left in the half.
Gambling man Tomlin, who likes to take chances in situations like this, went for the tying two-pointer and got it when Roethlisberger found Miller on a fade.
There was considerable confusion before the play. Roethlisberger signaled for a timeout, but the referee told him he couldn't take one, and the Steelers ran the play even though the Bengals' defensive alignment wasn't what they expected.
"I had to run the play," Roethlisberger said. "The whole time I was under center, coach (Todd) Haley was screaming to take a timeout. I was trying to wave him off, but we couldn't do anything. So we snapped the ball and I threw it to Heath and he made the play."
Mike Nugent and Suisham traded field goals to start the second half before the Steelers mounted their most critical drive of the game, 67 yards in eight plays. Roethlisberger found Brown for 16 on third-and-8 and Emmanuel Sanders for 26 on third-and-6 ahead of Rainey's first career touchdown, a counter play behind Colon, who had his best game since switching from right tackle to left guard.
"I had to step up and do something," Colon said. "I was tired of losing on the road."
And this time, the defense preserved the lead.
"Now we've got to do something we haven't done so far, and that's win two games in a row," Miller said, referring to the home game against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins on Sunday.