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Steelers much improved since Bengals loss

| Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009

It was a different Steelers team, at a different point of the season.

All of the pieces were in place on offense. Most of them, anyway.

Still, the Steelers make no excuses for their 23-20 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 27 that left them with a 1-2 record.

"We could have closed the game out," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We could have done it on offense."

Added offensive coordinator Bruce Arians: "We left so many points on the field."

The 6-2 Steelers have won five consecutive games since losing to the Bengals, thanks in no small part to their resurgent offense, ranked No. 5 in the NFL.

The rematch with Cincinnati is at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

"It's going to be a big test for us, but we're moving in the right direction," Roethlisberger said.

Against Denver's top-ranked defense last week, the Steelers scored touchdowns on three of their six legitimate second-half possessions. They closed out the fourth quarter with touchdowns on their last two drives to turn a close game into a blowout.

Unlike their uneven performance in the Cincinnati loss, the Steelers' offense didn't repeat the mistake of leaving points on the field against the Broncos.

Roethlisberger said the difference in the offense has been encouraging, but he believes there's still plenty of room for growth.

"We're not where we want to be yet, but we keep improving," said Roethlisberger, who is tied for first in the league in completion percentage (70.6), joined by the Colts' Peyton Manning.

In the first game against Cincinnati, the Steelers failed to convert on third-and-goal at the 1 in the first quarter and fourth-and-4 from the Cincinnati 35 in the second quarter.

The Steelers scored only once on five-second half possessions - Roethlisberger's 1-yard run in the third quarter. Another third-quarter possession resulted in Cincinnati returning a Roethlisberger interception for a touchdown. Following that possession, Jeff Reed missed a field goal after Limas Sweed dropped a wide-open touchdown pass.

"We had a mental (lapse) on third and one on the goal line," Arians said. "We had a mental on third and five on the goal line. We dropped a touchdown pass. When it's a tight game, it's going to haunt you."

During their five-game winnning streak, the Steelers have averaged 29.6 points, after averaging 15.6 points through the first three games.

The addition of second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall to the lineup the past five games has sparked the offense - along with a greater attention to detail from everyone involved.

"That's all we've talked about is to make sure we're right," Arians said. "Respect who we're playing but make sure we do what we're supposed to do, and we'll be alright."

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