Steelers shut down Bengals to pull away for 29-14 win
PITTSBURGH (AP) — JuJu Smith-Schuster hid his eyes, counted to 10 and went looking for Le’Veon Bell.
The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver found his team’s star running back crouching behind the goalpost, then proceeded to chase Bell all the way to the sideline as part of a hastily planned touchdown celebration.
“That was just us being dramatic,” Bell said with a smile.
In a good way for once.
Smith-Schuster never did catch Bell, by the way . Now he knows how the rest of the AFC North feels about the surging Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards and two scores, Bell added 192 total yards and Pittsburgh’s defense dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half of a 29-14 victory on Sunday.
A bit of a hot mess after getting upset at home by Jacksonville two weeks ago, the Steelers (5-2) have figured things out quickly. They shut down Kansas City on the road last Sunday and followed it up by suffocating Cincinnati in the second half to move into a tie for the AFC’s best record as their once-again promising season nears the midway point.
Pittsburgh held the Bengals (2-4) to 19 yards over the final two quarters, intercepting Andy Dalton twice and sacking him four times.
“The sky’s the limit,” Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree said. “Not even the sky’s the limit. We’re not going to put a ceiling on our head. We’re going to keep going up.”
Cincinnati came in looking to add some street cred to their resurgence after their 0-3 start, but instead spent the second half reverting to the kind of ineffective offense that got Ken Zampese fired two weeks into the season. Dalton finished 17 of 30 for 140 yards and the two picks while playing on a twisted ankle.
Dalton’s final pass symbolized a frustrating afternoon. Facing fourth down and trailing by two scores with 5 minutes left, Dalton scrambled to his left and then simply threw the ball away to seal Cincinnati’s eighth loss in its last night meetings with Pittsburgh.
“Any time you lose a division game, especially to the Steelers, the way they’re playing, every game counts,” said Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green after being held to three receptions for 41 yards. “It’s tough. It sets us behind even more.”
Chris Boswell added a Heinz Field-record five field goals for Pittsburgh, which posted its highest points total and appears to be rounding into form as Halloween nears.
Two weeks after openly questioning whether he still “had it,” Roethlisberger put together easily his best half of the season. He hit Antonio Brown for a 7-yard touchdown to cap Pittsburgh’s first drive, found a wide-open Smith-Schuster for a 31-yard score in the second quarter and threw a perfectly placed 23-yard deep out to Brown late in the second quarter to spark a drive that ended with a 24-yard Chris Boswell field goal that put the Steelers up 20-14 at the half.
Dalton and Cincinnati appeared ready to keep pace early. He connected with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft with first-half touchdowns, but when the Steelers turned the pressure up, the Bengals crumbled.
Cincinnati managed just one first down in the second half, much of which Dalton spent on the run or throwing into trouble. Joe Haden collected his first interception with Pittsburgh when he made a juggling grab that set up a field goal by Boswell. William Gay added one later in the third quarter on an ugly overthrow by Dalton.
Smith-Schuster’s joyous game of hide-and-seek turned out to be Bell’s brainchild. He approached Smith-Schuster — who at 20 is the NFL’s youngest player — about 10 minutes before kickoff with the idea. Smith-Schuster, who earlier this season paid tribute to the cartoon “Dragon Ball Z” after scoring in Baltimore, jumped at the chance.
“We didn’t practice it or nothing,” Bell said. “It just kind of happened.”
Bell’s day included 35 carries for 134 yards and three receptions for 58 yards, including a 42-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter that featured Bell stiff-arming Cincinnati’s Dre Kirkpatrick to the ground.
“I’ve been doing a lot of boxing, so that helped me today,” Bell said after the Steelers improved to 12-0 when he has at least 25 carries.
The Steelers put it out of reach late thanks in part to a 44-yard fake punt pass from Robert Golden to Darrius Heyward-Bey. The team has practiced it weekly for years and Golden found a streaking Heyward-Bey to set up Boswell’s final field goal.
“Horrible form,” Roethlisberger said. “I told him it looked like he was casting deep sea fishing. But hey, might have been the best pass of the night.”
Oft-suspended Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict let his disdain for the Steelers known early. Burfict declined to shake hands when he came out to midfield during the coin toss. Burfict, who was suspended for the first five games of last season for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Brown during a playoff loss to the Steelers in January, 2016, then appeared to kick Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix on the second snap of the game as the two were emerging from a pile.
Nix declined to get into specifics about Burfict’s behavior, saying simply “that’s football.”
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald left with a knee injury and did not return. Cincinnati linebacker Kevin Minter exited with a knee injury in the first half and did not return.
Bengals: Host struggling Indianapolis next Sunday.
Steelers: Visit Detroit next Sunday night. Pittsburgh has won last four meetings with the Lions.