It was the worst collective performance of the year by the Cincinnati Bengals, but that didn't stop them from getting another win. The offense sputtered, while the special teams unit left points on the board and penalties frustrated the squad all afternoon. Through it all, the defense held strong and frustrated Ben Roethlisberger in his first game back in a month.
The unit effectively forced punts on a number of occasions, but also squashed Roethlisberger's backyard style of football to the tune of three interceptions. All three were forced by the safety position, two from savvy veteran Reggie Nelson and a third came in surprising form one from backup Shawn Williams. All three interceptions had a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
If James Harrison, Joey Porter, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and others are coined as Bengals killers, Nelson has chipped away at the stone that comprises Big Ben. Per Josh Kirkendall, Nelson has five interceptions in his last six games against the Steelers. Yeah, he's got No. 7's number of late.
The first turnover occurred at the beginning of the third quarter. Cincinnati was down 7-6 after an ugly first half by both teams, and punted away the opening possession, giving Who Dey Nation a lack of hope for the second half. Even though it equated to a punt and no points for the Bengals, Nelson began to spur momentum for the defense.
Reggie Nelson playing center field, recording the pick. Returned it to the PIT-33. https://t.co/WJrA2bwym9— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 1, 2015
As was part and parcel of the afternoon, Cincinnati squandered the opportunity for points by self-inflicted wounds in the form of yellow flags. At a minimum, it flipped the field position and the Steelers were only able to convert a field goal after the Bengals punted.
After two consecutive possessions that ended in Andy Dalton interceptions, things again looked bleak for the Bengals. With about six and a half minutes left in the game, Pittsburgh took over and looked to milk the clock after the Dalton interception that negated Bengals points. On second and six, Roethlisberger did one of his patented 37-second scrambles and attempted to hit fullback Will Johnson for a sizable gain. Reserve safety Shawn Williams made arguably the play of the game while covering Johnson.
Wow. Shawn Williams with an amazing pick. https://t.co/od7NWuAYYX— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 1, 2015
The Bengals finally capitalized on the Williams interception seven plays later on a Dalton touchdown pass to A.J. Green on a critical 3rd-and-2. It ended up being the winning score to seal Cincinnati's historical 7-0 start to the 2015 season.
However, at the time of the Green touchdown catch, the game was far from decided. Pittsburgh received the ball back at their own 20-yard line after a touchback and "Big Ben" attempted to get his team the lead. Instead, Roethlisberger threw his second interception in as many attempts--this time allowing Nelson to make a play for the second time.
Reggie Nelson with an interception on Ben's first throw!! https://t.co/KjdGn6aOOI— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 1, 2015
Though some of the huge return was negated by offsetting penalties, Nelson's interception was a clincher in a couple of ways. It ended up allowing Cincinnati to eat up the clock and get another Mike Nugent field goal, putting the Bengals up 16-10. It forced the Steelers to go the length of the field to try to get a win and they failed to accomplish that feat.
Aside from the big interceptions from Nelson and Williams, George Iloka also had a couple of nice plays to break-up passes downfield. Roethlisberger, ever the riverboat gambler, took his shots down field on multiple occasions Sunday afternoon. Iloka and Nelson combined with cornerbacks to either knock away passes or limit damage.
After years of quality play by Nelson and Iloka being clutch the past few years, the 2015 season wasn't shaping up to be a banner year for the safeties. Thanks to both and a major contribution from Williams against the Steelers, the trend changed this Sunday.
(Editor's Note: A tip of the cap to Josh Kirkendall for the great Vines!)