Bengals 38, Steelers 31
Cincinnati clinches first winning season since 1990
The Bengals took a giant leap this afternoon toward the franchise’s first playoff berth and division since 1990, improving to 9-3 with a 38-31 victory against the Steelers.
The victory also gives the Bengals their first winning record since 1990, when they finished 9-7.
The Steelers lost their third game in a row to fall to 7-5. The Bengals have a two-game lead in the standings in the AFC North and have evened the head-to-head series – the first playoff tiebreaker – at one each with the Steelers. The second tiebreaker is division record. The Bengals are now 4-1 in the AFC North, the Steelers 3-2.
Carson Palmer threw three touchdown passes, and Rudi Johnson ran for two touchdowns and 98 yards.
The Bengals also had a 4-0 edge in turnovers, intercepting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times. Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and attempted more than 30 passes for the first time in his career.
The Bengals held the Steelers to 91 rushing yards.
The Bengals crushed a late Pittsburgh possession, getting successive sacks on third and fourth downs by David Pollack and Justin Smith.
Bengals rookie wide receiver Tab Perry had a big day. He returned two kickoffs for 46 and 94 yards, a career long that set up a 1-yard Rudi Johnson touchdown run that gave the Bengals a 31-24 lead with 7:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter, Bengals cornerback Deltha O’Neal made his eighth interception of the season and returned the ball to the 44-yard line. Through three quarters, the Bengals had three takeaways and no giveaways.
In the fourth quarter, rookie linebacker Odell Thurman intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the Pittsburgh 49-yard line. It was Thurman’s fifth pick of the season.
The Bengals scored the winning touchdown on a 14-yard run against the blitz by Rudi Johnson. The carry gave Johnson 20 attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals now have scored 129 points off turnovers.
The Bengals moved the ball well in three of their first four possessions, scoring three touchdowns. Palmer had three first-half touchdown passes, upping his total to 26 in 12 games.
Roethlisberger hit Quincy Morgan with a 25-yard scoring pass, and Jerome Bettis ran in from the 1 to put the Steelers up 701 with 4:45 left in the first quarter. Bettis’ touchdown was his 17th touchdown in 20 career games against the Bengals.
The Bengals held the lead at the half, even though they had possession for just 12:36 in the first two quarters.
The quarterbacks accounted for most of the offense in the first quarter.
Palmer threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had single coverage against Steelers cornerback Ricardo Colclough. Houshmandzadeh outjumped and outworked him for the ball. The score tied the game 7-7 with 3:39 left in the first quarter.
Houshmandzadeh later caught a 6-yard touchdown, his second of the game and fifth of the season.
Bengals tight ends played well in the first half. Reggie Kelly caught a 1-yard touchdown pass, his first scoring catch since Sept. 28, 2003, at Cleveland. Kelly also lined up as the blocking H-back in the no-huddle offense. The Bengals ran the no-huddle 14 of 33 plays in the first half, and Houshmandzadeh’s 43-yard TD catch occurred on a no-huddle play.
Houshmandzadeh’s 6-yard touchdown ended a 22-play drive that was set up by linebacker Brian Simmons’ second interception of the season. Simmons returned the ball 16 yards, and the Steelers were penalized 15 yards for a low block.
Notes: Linebacker Landon Johnson injured his right knee early in the fourth quarter; he did return. … Wide receiver Chad Johnson came out for a play with a leg injury early in the third quarter.