It wasn't until late in the third quarter when Cincinnati's offense finally found it's footing.
As with most things in Cincinnati, it started with the defense. Paul Guenther dialed up a backside blitz and forced Ben Roethlisberger to target Antonio Brown with Reggie Nelson and Dre Kirkpatrick shadowing Pittsburgh's most-targeted receiver. Nelson snagged the football and handed the Bengals offense the football at their own 11-yard line, ensuring that Cincinnati's ten-point deficit doesn't expand. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson pieced together his best series of plays and the offense finally executed. It took 15 plays and 89 yards to complete a touchdown possession, capped by a Jermaine Gresham five-yard reception with 11:14 remaining in the fourth.
Despite the otherwise pessimistic outlook throughout most of the game, Cincinnati appeared to be recovering in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh responded with two first downs and reached Cincinnati's 45-yard line. Instead of pinning the Bengals inside the ten-yard line, they attempted a fake punt. Dane Sanzenbacher intercepted Brad Wing's attempted throw, giving Cincinnati the football at their own 41-yard line.
Yet, as it happens when Pittsburgh is involved, fate intervened.
Andy Dalton takes the shotgun snap from the Steelers 48-yard line on first down and four minutes remaining in the game. A.J. Green hauls in the receptions for 17 yards but has the football stripped out. Pittsburgh recovers the football at their own 30-yard line and A.J. Green is helped to the sidelines after taking a nasty shot to the head. Green finished the game with eight receptions for 82 yards receiving.
Pittsburgh extended their lead to 27-17 on an Antonio Brown 63-yard touchdown pass with 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, sealing their title as AFC North champions. As for the Bengals, Cincinnati has secured the No. 5 seed and will head to Indianapolis to play the Colts on January 4, 2015. Pittsburgh will host the Baltimore Ravens this Saturday.
STEELERS DRAW FIRST BLOOD
After the Cincinnati Bengals opened the game with a quick three-and-out -- incomplete down the left sidelines and two Jeremy Hill touches (four-yard run and a four-yard reception) -- Antonio Brown returned the ensuing punt 71 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 11:13 remaining in the first quarter. This is the third punt return for a touchdown in Brown's career... all in Pittsburgh against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With 8:35 remaining in the first quarter, Dalton throws the football deep down the right sidelines while A.J. Green ran the route short.
Green ran his route short and Dalton threw deep, leading to an INT. https://t.co/AjKIikC2xl— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
Fortunately the Bengals forced a three-and-out.
THE BENGALS TIE THE GAME AT 7
With 4:47 remaining in the first quarter, the Bengals have fourth and three on Pittsburgh's 35-yard line. Considering that field goals usually die a quiet death in the 50-yard range, the Bengals went for it. Quarterback Andy Dalton snaps the football to Brandon Tate on a quick slant.
Dalton completes the 14 yard pass to convert 4th and 3, reaching the PIT-21 w/ 4:47 left in the 1st. https://t.co/8qeeGJxWzO— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
Two plays later, the Bengals have third and six from the Steelers 17-yard line with 2:54 remaining in the first. Eventually Dalton is forced out of the pocket, and flips it Giovani Bernard.
Gio with a 17 yard TD! Game tied at 7 with 2:43 remaining in the 1st. https://t.co/kSRaTaQLkW— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
PITTSBURGH TURNOVER LEADS TO FIELD GOLD
With :44 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey botched the third-and-three snap. Wallace Gilberry recovered the football on the Steelers 34-yard line.
Gilberry recovers a botched shotgun snap at the Steelers 34-yard line. Bengals ball. https://t.co/ALSofGz5KS— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
Cincinnati picked up a first down, converting a third-and-five to the Steelers 18-yard line. However, a second down sack forced Mike Nugent to convert the 39-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 10-7 lead with 12:32 remaining in the second quarter.
STEELERS RESPOND TO TIE THE GAME AT 10
On a drive that started at the Steelers 20-yard line with 12:38 remaining in the second quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers moved downfield with relative ease. With 10:42 remaining in the second quarter from the Steelers 38-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger sits in the pocket and finds a wide-open Heath Miller for a 20-yard gain.
On the following play Roethlisberger sits within another comfortable pocket and flips the football to Le'Veon Bell in the left flats. Avoiding Vincent Rey, Bell runs from the Bengals 42-yard line to the 16-yard line. Fortunately the Bengals forced Pittsburgh to convert a 29-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with 7:40 remaining in the first half.
DALTON'S SECOND INTERCEPTION LEADS TO A TOUCHDOWN
With 6:51 remaining in the second quarter, Andy Dalton takes the second down snap from the Bengals 34-yard line. He only needs three yards to convert and finds A.J. Green on a slant. The overthrow is tipped by Green and leads to a Brice McCain interception -- his second of the night.
Andy Dalton's second interception of the first half. https://t.co/oqwl9HI5Hs— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
After a seven-yard pass to Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger hits Markavis Bryant on a wide receiver screen. Bryant sprinted 21 yards for the touchdown, giving the Steelers a 17-10 lead.
Dalton's second interception leads to Bryant's TD and a Steelers 17-10 lead w/ 5:52 remaining in 2ndQ. https://t.co/4o4bggP6f5— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
Pittsburgh added a 25-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter, completing a 55-yard drive that started on Pittsburgh's 23-yard line.
A MISSED FIELD GOAL
The Cincinnati Bengals opened the second half with an 11-play drive that wiped out 5:15 off the third quarter clock. Cincinnati started from their own 30-yard line, generated a pair of first downs but stalled on Pittsburgh's 32-yard line. Mike Nugent failed to convert the 50-yard attempt with 9:45 remaining in the third.
THE REGGIE NELSON INTERCEPTION
With 3:54 remaining in the third quarter, Ben Roethlisberger felt pressure on the backside and flipped the football towards Antonio Brown. Reggie Nelson intercepted the football on the Bengals 15-yard line. After a handful of penalties and a negated return, the Bengals have the football at the 11-yard line.
Bengals call tails and it's heads. Pittsburgh wins the toss and elects to receive.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2014
|CB Terence Newman||S Troy Polamalu|
|WR James Wright||CB Ike Taylor|
|WR Greg Little||DE Clifton Geathers|
|DT Devon Still||WR Justin Brown|
|QB AJ McCarron||TE Michael Palmer|
|OL Tanner Hawkinson||QB Landry Jones|
|OL TJ Johnson||OG Chris Hubbard|