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The Cincinnati Bengals have clinched their second postseason berth in back to back seasons for the first time in 30 years with a symbolic win over the Steelers.
After a second half full of examples of offensive ineptitude from both teams, the Bengals shook off a little rust midway through the fourth quarter. After a couple completions to both A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals marched into Pittsburgh territory once again.
After a couple of plays that netted little yardage, the Bengals were forced with a critical decision yet again on the afternoon. Attempt a long field goal with Josh Brown, who has been money in relief of Mike Nugent, or kick a pooch punt to pin the struggling Steelers defense deep in their own territory?
Marvin Lewis, after a couple of questionable decisions on the day, opted for the former and allowed Brown to try a 56-yard attempt. Predictably, Brown was short on the attempt and gave the Steelers outstanding field position with around four minutes to play. It could prove to be the decision of the game.
The Steelers are driving with just over two minutes to play in a 10-10 tie.
The Bengals tried going for it on fourth and 22 on Pittsburgh's 33-yard line with 9:15, failing to convert by the inches of A.J. Green cleats and the Steelers quickly go on the offensive.
Roethlisberger fakes the handoff and finds a wide open Heath Miller with Chris Crocker tailing behind, picking up 22 yards to the Bengals 45-yard line. The Steelers continued with a 13-yard Wallace reception, an Emmanuel Sanders 13-yard third down conversion before the Bengals defense stiffened up.
After a three-yard loss on a Jonathan Dwyer run and quarterback sack by Michael Johnson, the Steelers have third and 21 from the Bengals 33-yard line. The screen pass to Chris Rainey was juggled and fell incomplete.
Sean Suisham converts the 40-yard attempt and ties the game at ten.
The Bengals had a solid drive going that lasted for seven plays, and the came up with nothing. Rather than attempting a 51 yard field goal or punting, Marvin Lewis decided to go for it on 4th and 22.
Dalton threw it deep to A.J. Green and Green almost came down with the ball. Unfortunately, he could not get the second foot down. As I type this, the Steelers are in field goal territory, keep checking in for updates.
Well, that deferral of the coin toss did a lot of good, didn't it? The Bengals went into halftime reeling from a late touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, but still led 10-7 and looked to regroup after a poor first half on offense. On the first play from scrimmage, Andy Dalton dropped back to pass and looked Andrew Hawkins' way.
Dalton threw the ball late and floated it, allowing Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen to jump in front of the pass and intercept it. The interception gave the Steelers great field position and possible momentum to gain control of the game. Dalton is ten for seventeen passing, with one interception and no touchdowns.
The Bengals defense stood strong on the Steelers possession and forced Pittsburgh to punt. The Bengals have the ball in their own territory.
The Bengals went into the lockerroom with a 10-7 half time lead. How will the second half with the season on the line pan out? Here's the open thread to talk about it.
Now with the Bengals leading 10-0 with under two minutes remaining, the Pittsburgh Steelers open their two minute offense with 1:48 remaining in the second quarter.
After having enough time to watch The Hobbit in the pocket, Roethlisberger nails Antonio Brown on consecutive strikes, the second a 60-yard touchdown with Adam Jones poorly covering at least 2-3 steps behind the cornerback. The two-play 73-yard drive leaves 1:09 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bengals have increased their lead to 10-0 on the Steelers after a 41 yard field goal by Josh Brown. A 37 yard punt by the Steelers allowed the Bengals to start at the Steeler 42 yard line. The first play was a down field shot to A.J. Green that was broken up by Troy Polamalu The seldom used Brandon Tate then caught a shovel pass and picked up 23 yards.
After a one yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Dalton threw an incomplete pass. On third down, Dalton went to the end-zone and Marvin Jones almost came up with an incredible touchdown catch. The Bengals were then forced to kick the field goal. Bengals lead 10-0 with a minute and a half remaining.
The Bengals had their chances to take control of the game after a Leon Hall pick-six and a hold by the defense, but a classic and critical Bengals mistake allowed the Steelers to take advantage. On a fourth and six around midfield on a punt, Dan Skuta was flagged for an iffy running into the kicker penalty.
The result of the penalty gave the Steelers a manageable fourth and one and a tough run by Isaac Redman continued the Steelers drive. Ben Roethlisberger picked on the Bengals secondary, bringing the ball down to the six-yard line. On third and one, Roethlisberger scrambled around and fluttered an incompletion to a running back in the end zone.
Pittsburgh and Sean Suisham lined up for a gimme field goal and Suisham missed badly to the right. The Bengals defense was out there for almost eight minutes, but held strong. Upon review of the play, it appeared that the snap was a poor one. Bengals have the ball and the lead, 7-0.
Pittsburgh opened their first two possessions with a heavy dose of Jonathan Dwyer runs. Isaac Redman rotates into the game, but after Ben Roethlisberger's four-yard not-sure-it-was completed pass to Antonio Brown, setting up an eventual third and four from the Steelers 13-yard line with over two minutes remaining in the second.
Ben Roethlisberger takes the snap and confidently throws over the middle, where Leon Hall breaks on Heath Miller's route, taking it into the endzone for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
After Jason Allen's hold that wiped out a 62-yard Adam Jones punt return, the Bengals open at their own 15-yard line with 5:59 remaining in the first quarter. Andy Dalton quickly hits Marvin Jones' out-route for an 11-yard gain and a quick first down to the 26-yard line.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis one-yard pickup and an Andrew Hawkins two-yard reception sets up a third and seven from the Bengals 29-yard line.
Dalton, with empty backfield, fires a fastball on a hitch route to Marvin Jones, falling one yard short of the first down. However the officials called it incomplete (which it was), forcing the Bengals to punt.
Antonio Brown allowed Kevin Huber's punt to roll to Pittsburgh's seven-yard line, forcing the Steelers to start within their own ten-yard line with under four minutes remaining.
The Steelers opened on offense with 7:43 remaining in the first quarter with consecutive Jonathan Dwyer runs, picking up six yards combined on consecutive downs, setting up a third and four from the Steelers 26-yard line.
Ben Roethlisberger scrambles and finds Mike Wallace leading Terence Newman by a handful of steps, but overthrowing the receiver to go three-and-out.
The Steelers punt to the Bengals 25-yard line, where Adam Jones returns the punt 62 yards, but Jason Allen is called for a hold, forcing the Bengals to their own 15-yard line.
Forcing the Steelers to punt to Cincinnati's 12-yard line opens the Bengals offense with 12:30 remaining in the first quarter. And Dalton opens with a quick strike to A.J. Green, running a hitch near the right sidelines, picking up seven yards through the air, and running for eight more yards, picking up 15 yards total on the play.
Yet like the Steelers opening possession, the Bengals are only able to pick up one first down. After a three-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis run, Lawrence Timmons fought around the edge to sack Andy Dalton, forcing a third and 14 from the Bengals 23-yard line. Dalton scrambles after holding onto the football too long and is dropped for a second sack, forcing the Bengals to punt.
Fortunately for the Bengals, Brett Keisel was flagged for excessive celebration, given a new set of downs at their own 37-yard line. Following a no-gain and quick bubble screen to A.J. Green for five yards, the Bengals have third and five at their own 42-yard line. Dalton quickly throws to Ryan Whalen, a little high, where the receiver jumped up, risking his body for the grab and grabbing the first down conversion.
Incomplete deep pass and BenJarvus Green-Ellis no-gain sets up a third and ten from the 48-yard line with less than eight minutes remaining. Dalton overthrows Jermaine Gresham over the middle, incomplete. Bengals punt.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Bengals open the game on defense at Pittsburgh's 34-yard line after an impressive Chris Rainey 34-yard kickoff return, sliding from right to the left sidelines. Jonathan Dwyer received the game's first offensive play of the game, turning the right edge and finding a lane down the right sidelines for 13 yards.
After a couple of minimal gains by Dwyer, the Steelers have third and seven at midfield with over 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Geno Atkins wrapped around and sacked Ben Roethlisberger for the quarterback sack, giving him 11.5 on the season.
Bengals will open at their own 12-yard line.
It's the game of the year with a simple premise. Win and you're in. We've been saying it for weeks, accelerated with a stronger impact this week.
Andy Dalton, Rey Maualuga, Kyle Cook, Leon Hall and Dan Skuta are this week's captains.
The Cincinnati Bengals won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, opening the game on defense.
It's game day, game time and the Cincinnati can either be in the playoffs four hours from now, or not. This is your open thread for the game.
You won't mistake rookie tackle Mike Adams as a Pro Bowl lock this season, having allowed a team-leading seven quarterback sacks. However he arguably put together his best game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Seven, scoring a Pro Football Focus scored of +3.0, strongest as a run blocker.
Adams hasn't played since November 25 with an ankle and he won't this weekend against Cincinnati. Rookie Kelvin Beachum, who will have his hands full with Carlos Dunlap -- arguably Cincinnati's best pass rusher at defensive end -- will start for Adams at right tackle.
Beachum has started the last three games, allowing two quarterback sacks, ten hurries and two pressures.
After taking a few weeks off with an injured ankle, Cedric Peerman participated during every practice this week (on a limited basis), though was listed as questionable Friday afternoon.
However due to the importance of Sunday's game, we can only judge that questionable injury statuses tend side with a greater probability of activation, depending on the health at that player's respective position. Adam Jones is important as a third cornerback and punt returner, so it explains that. On the other hand, Josh Brown has beautifully replaced Mike Nugent, who is out this weekend.
Yet on offense the Bengals are short with running backs. Despite Dan Herron's performances on the punt return team, blocking and knocking blocker into the punter on another, he hasn't shown nor promised production on offense. Therefore he sat because Peerman is far more important to the offense and shown has a greater history of production on special teams (don't forget the fake punts).
For the first time this season, sixteen weeks deep into the season and a few weeks after activation from the Injured Reserve list, veteran center Kyle Cook will start on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's a number of reasons projected as for change; veteran experience against the Steelers is the most prominent.
However there are conflicting reports as to whether there will be rotation with rookie center Trevor Robinson, who replaced Jeff Faine midseason and started the last seven games since the Week Eight bye.
Despite suffering a reported hamstring injury during Friday's practice, listed as questionable heading into the weekend, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones is active against the Pittsburgh Steelers for a virtual do-or-die scenario for Cincinnati's postseason chances.
It was believed that if he was unable to go, Nate Clements would replace him as the nickel (or fifth DB) and Brandon Tate would take 100 percent of the team's punt returns.
It's unknown however how much Jones will participate, two days after a hamstring that forced him into questionable status.
Seven players on both teams are inactive with only a 46-man roster limit for the active gameday roster. Here's the Steelers and Bengals inactives.
It's gameday morning and we're gearing up for Week 16, perhaps the most important game of the century of the week.
A collections of stories, previews and information heading into Sunday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.