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No quit from underdog Steelers in downing Bengals at Heinz Field

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Troy Polamalu upends Bengals receiver Marvin Jones during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Troy Polamalu upends Bengals receiver Marvin Jones during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes a move the Bengals' Adam Jones during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes a move the Bengals' Adam Jones during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers defender Will Allen tackles Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the one-yard-line during first quarter action at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers defender Will Allen tackles Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the one-yard-line during first quarter action at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Will Allen (20) celebrates with teammate Terence Garvin following a tackle of Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the 1-yard line during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Will Allen (20) celebrates with teammate Terence Garvin following a tackle of Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the 1-yard line during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eludes the Bengals' Carlos Dunlap en route to throwing a first-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eludes the Bengals' Carlos Dunlap en route to throwing a first-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Ryan Clark stops Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Ryan Clark stops Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - An injured Marcus Gilbert lays on the grass during first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>An injured Marcus Gilbert lays on the grass during first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Will Allen (front) and teammate Terence Garvin celebrate a tackle of Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the 1-yard line during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Will Allen (front) and teammate Terence Garvin celebrate a tackle of Bengals punter Kevin Huber on the 1-yard line during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis is stopped by the Steelers defense during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis is stopped by the Steelers defense during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Antonio Brown returns a first-quarter punt for a touchdown against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Antonio Brown returns a first-quarter punt for a touchdown against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Ike Taylor breaks up a pass intended for Bengals receiver A.J. Green during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Ike Taylor breaks up a pass intended for Bengals receiver A.J. Green during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Bengals' Tyler Eifert pulls in a fourth-quarter touchdown pass in front of the Steelers' Ryan Clark on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Bengals' Tyler Eifert pulls in a fourth-quarter touchdown pass in front of the Steelers' Ryan Clark on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders makes the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick in the second quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders makes the Bengals' Dre Kirkpatrick in the second quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' William Gay defends on a second-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' A.J. Green on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' William Gay defends on a second-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' A.J. Green on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Family members of Lance Cpl. Cory J. LeMasters of Brentwood race to greet him after a surprise visit Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Family members of Lance Cpl. Cory J. LeMasters of Brentwood race to greet him after a surprise visit Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Lance Cpl. Cory J. LeMasters of Brentwood surprises his family with a visit Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Lance Cpl. Cory J. LeMasters of Brentwood surprises his family with a visit Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Antonio Brown outpaces the Bengals' Cedric Peerman en route to a first-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Antonio Brown outpaces the Bengals' Cedric Peerman en route to a first-quarter touchdown Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivers a first-quarter pass Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivers a first-quarter pass Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds battles the Bengals' Andre Smith during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds battles the Bengals' Andre Smith during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes it into the end zone for a first-quarter score against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell makes it into the end zone for a first-quarter score against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers fans wait for the game to begin against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers fans wait for the game to begin against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Troy Polamalu causes a Bengals fumble Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Troy Polamalu causes a Bengals fumble Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - A bundled Steelers fan watches a game against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>A bundled Steelers fan watches a game against the Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Bengals' Adam Jones picks off a third-quarter pass intended for the Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders on on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Bengals' Adam Jones picks off a third-quarter pass intended for the Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders on on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Cortez Allen breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' Marvin Jones on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Cortez Allen breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' Marvin Jones on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers saftey Ryan Clark misses the Bengals' Tyler Eifert in the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers saftey Ryan Clark misses the Bengals' Tyler Eifert in the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders bounces off the tackle attempt by the Bengals' Chris Crocker for a fourth-quarter first down Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field. Sanders likely will test the free-agent market in the offseason.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders bounces off the tackle attempt by the Bengals' Chris Crocker for a fourth-quarter first down Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field. Sanders likely will test the free-agent market in the offseason.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Troy Polamalu breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' A.J. Green on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Troy Polamalu breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Bengals' A.J. Green on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, at Heinz Field.

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Road to playoffs

How the Steelers can get into the playoffs:

• Steelers must win twice

• Ravens must lose two of their three remaining games

• Dolphins must lose twice

• Chargers must lose once

• Jets must win twice

Under this scenario, all these teams would finish 8-8, and the Steelers would be the sixth seed in the AFC. Ties are broken first inside a division. The Jets would eliminate the Dolphins, and the Steelers would eliminate the Ravens based on better division record. The Steelers would eliminate the Jets based on head-to-head play and the Chargers based on conference record.

By Alan Robinson
Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 11:48 p.m.
 

If only the Steelers had played in September the way they did on a throwback Sunday night in December.

The Steelers turned a succession of special teams mistakes by the Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) into a club record-tying 21-point first quarter that featured an Antonio Brown touchdown catch and 67-yard punt return score, and they beat up on their division rival 30-20 at Heinz Field.

The first-place Bengals were favored to win in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1989, but it was the Steelers who turned back the clock with a vintage performance that made their fans wonder where this had been all season.

“Cincinnati was beginning to feel good about themselves against us,” safety Ryan Clark said. “They'd won two in a row and at the end of the game in September they were fighting and talking. It was good to get them at a time they were feeling good about themselves.”

At the same time, the Steelers were wondering where their fans were.

There were nearly 20,000 no-shows — the crowd of 45,873 easily was the smallest since Heinz Field opened in 2001 — and they missed the kind of all-around performance the Steelers rarely have produced while going 14-16 the past two seasons.

The NFL's oldest defense — its average age is about 29 — never let a flustered Andy Dalton get settled in as the Steelers opened first-half leads of 21-0 and 27-7. By contrast, Ben Roethlisberger was nearly flawless early on in an offense that needed to drive only 48 yards for its first two scores.

Roethlisberger was 20 of 25 for 191 yards and broke his 2009 club record for completions in a season. He has 340.

“They're at the top (of the division), but we wanted to come out and play a complete game,” Roethlisberger said. “I wish we could have finished better. … But it was a W, and that means more than any personal records.”

The Bengals finally found rhythm with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but they hardly mattered.

Ending a two-game losing streak that left them with only a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs, the Steelers (6-8) staved off playoff elimination and delayed the Bengals' AFC North title-clinching for at least another week. They also badly damaged Cincinnati's chances of securing a wild-card weekend bye.

The Steelers' 21st win in their past 29 games against the Bengals was a payback of sorts for the Bengals' 13-10 win at Heinz Field last December that eliminated Pittsburgh from playoff contention.

It didn't take long at all, either.

Bengals punter Kevin Huber — he couldn't have had a much more miserable night — mishandled the snap as he tried to get off a kick near his goal line on Cincinnati's first possession and was tackled by Will Allen at the 1.

Le'Veon Bell couldn't get in on first down but did on second to start the Steelers on only the second 21-point opening quarter in their history. The other one was against the New England Patriots in 2004, during Roethlisberger's rookie season.

It would get worse for Huber and the Bengals.

Brown's 11-yard punt return again gave the Steelers the ball at the Cincinnati 47, and he finished the eight-play drive with a 13-yard scoring catch that made it 14-0. Brown made five catches and needs just five more to reach the 100-catch mark for the season.

It wasn't Brown's biggest play of the night.

Huber punted yet again and, as Brown broke free after fielding the punt at his own 33, tried to move in and help with the tackle. But Huber was blindsided by a crunching block by Terence Garvin that broke his jaw as Brown raced downfield on a 67-yard punt return score, the second of his career.

“I thought I hit him pretty good,” Garvin said. “I was just looking for the first white jersey I could find. I didn't even feel it.”

The Steelers had scored only 43 points in the first quarter all season, yet they had 21 with 1:12 remaining in the quarter.

Shaun Suisham added field goals of 25, 45 and 26 yards.

For one night, the Steelers were the Steelers again. But it likely was too little, too late.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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