Cincinnati, like as their win against the Seahawks (though on a much smaller scale), entered the fourth quarter with a four-point deficit against the Steelers. Despite a horrific third quarter, they had begun building momentum early in the fourth, with the help of a Tyler Eifert 23-yard reception and a 12-yard Giovani Bernard sprint to the Steelers' five-yard line.
Following a handful of incomplete passes (because Hue didn't believe in running the football against Pittsburgh's stacked box), Dalton targeted Marvin Jones in the endzone. Had Dalton floated the football toward the front right pylon, at worst it would have been incomplete and Mike Nugent could have converted another field goal to reduce Cincinnati's deficit to one. Instead, the football was thrown inside, allowing safety Antwon Blake to intercept the football and return it 42 yards.
On the next possession, Andy Dalton launched a deep pass that was intercepted by Mike Mitchell, not long after a shotgun snap slipped through his fingers, putting the Bengals in a second-and-25 situation.
At this point, it felt like all hope was lost -- much like the third quarter against the Seahawks. The Bengals clearly lacked concentration. Was it momentum-breaking bye week or their usual mental block against the Steelers. There were several presnap fouls, dropped passes and troublesome blocking schemes that forced Dalton to spend most of his afternoon scrambling. It felt darkest just before the dawn, the moment when our protagonists were facing tremendous odds.
Yet, out of nowhere, safety Shawn Williams made an improbable interception on Pittsburgh's 45-yard line with over five minutes remaining. Roethisberger was running around, pretty much unabated near the left sidelines. Finally, he launched and Williams laid out for the pick. Should this be a candidate for play of the game? Hell, no. This IS the play of the game.
Giovani Bernard advanced Cincinnati to the Steelers' 17-yard line on a shot-put throw from Dalton. Eventually the Bengals had third and two, with Dalton slinging a fastball to A.J. Green, who sprinted through a slant route for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 13-10 lead with 3:01 remaining.
Ben Roehtlisberger sailed his first throw on Pittsburgh's ensuing possession, targeting Antonio Brown. Reggie Nelson fielded the pop fly on his second interception of the afternoon. Cincinnati tried killing the clock running the football. With the use of a two minute warning and multiple timeouts, Pittsburgh had 1:47 remaining when Mike Nugent crushed a 44-yard field goal. How significant is this? The field goal gave Cincinnati a six-point lead, forcing the Steelers to score a touchdown during their final possession.
Almost. Pittsburgh reached the Bengals 16-yard line with four seconds remaining, setting up a win-all-the-marbles scenario. Scrambling and escaping from pressure, Roethlisberger overthrew the football out of the back of the endzone.
The win extends Cincinnati's undefeated record to 7-0.
This wasn't pretty.
It was ugly, sloppy, if not vomit-inducing. There was a third-and-one situation where a poor snap slipped through Dalton's legs. Serious considering needs to be examined about Dre Kirkpatrick and whether Darqueze Dennard should replace him. Cincinnati's pass rush was decent but the Bengals' pass protection was under fire all afternoon. It wasn't until a pair of fourth quarter interceptions that enabled Cincinnati to build momentum for their eventual win.
Wins are wins. It doesn't matter how they happen. This was sloppy and yet, it was as glorious as any this season.
- Linebacker Rey Maualuga suffered a calf injury midway through the first quarter. Cincinnati, at the time, announced he was questionable to return. Later, he was downgraded to doubtful, Maualuga never returned.
- During Andy Dalton's redzone interception with over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Andre Smith walked back to the lockerroom after laying on the turf for several minutes.
- Carlos Dunlap suffered an injury and was listed as questionable; he eventually returned.
The Bengals host Cleveland this Thursday during the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football.