Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers turn it on in crunch time again

The quarterback led a 42-21 beatdown of division rivals Cincinnati on Sunday, putting the Steelers in pole position to win the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a 94-yard touchdown pass in his team's win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL on Sunday. Frank Victores / AP / December 7, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a 94-yard touchdown pass in his team's win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL on Sunday. Frank Victores / AP / December 7, 2014

The only fans left at Paul Brown Stadium in the final minutes were the ones twirling those yellow towels and celebrating another significant Pittsburgh Steelers victory in December.

This one was bigger than most.

Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell came up big in a game that Pittsburgh had to win Sunday, leading the Steelers to a 42-21 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals that left the AFC North race wide open.

Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, including a 94-yarder to rookie Martavis Bryant, and Bell scored three times as the Steelers (8-5) ran away by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter.

Now, it’s a four-way race to the top.

“We have a great opportunity in front of us, so I’m going to embrace it,” said Bell, who ran for two touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass. “This is the part of the year where things get a little tight, they get more exciting. Everybody in the locker room is excited about this last couple of weeks.”

The Bengals (8-4-1) had been in control, up by a game and a half over everyone else. Another meltdown at home against a division rival left it anyone’s title.

The defending division champions are in trouble.

In their last two home games, the Bengals have lost to both Cleveland and Pittsburgh by 21 points. It was Pittsburgh’s most lopsided win at Paul Brown Stadium since a 38-10 victory in 2008. The Bengals play at Cleveland next Sunday, host Denver in a Monday night game and then finish at Pittsburgh.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey said.

Given how they dominated on Sunday, the Steelers figure it very well could be them. They’re tied with Baltimore for second place, with Cleveland (7-6) right behind.

Bell steadied Pittsburgh’s offence by running for 185 yards, catching six passes for 50 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the second half. He became the sixth player in NFL history to have 200 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) in three straight games – and joined Walter Payton as the only players with 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games.

The Steelers ran for 193 yards and piled up 543 overall – 229 of them in the fourth quarter.

“We ran the same play three or four times in a row and those guys just couldn’t stop it,” Bell said.

Roethlisberger emerged from a three-game funk by making big plays as well, including the longest touchdown pass in the NFL this season. Up by eight points and backed up on their 6-yard line, Pittsburgh decided to fake a handoff and let Roethlisberger drop into his end zone and throw deep.

Bryant ran past cornerback Leon Hall and caught the ball in stride along the right sideline, reaching the end zone untouched.

“We did a little play-action and I just let it fly,” said Roethlisberger, who was 25-of-39 for 350 yards. “I’ve underthrown him in practice because when he gets running, he’s fast. I just put it out there, let him run under it, and he did the rest.”

Coming into the game, there were questions about Roethlisberger’s passing hand, which he hit on a helmet during a loss to New Orleans a week ago. He was on target all game, his right hand bare in the December cold.

Andy Dalton and AJ Green combined on an impressive pass-and-catch performance for Cincinnati. The receiver had 11 catches for a career-high 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter that put the Bengals ahead 21-17.

Dalton made Bengals history when he faked a handoff to Jeremy Hill and ran 20 yards untouched for a touchdown, the longest scoring run by a quarterback in franchise history.

He also made the game-turning mistake.

Dalton fumbled while faking another handoff to Hill, giving Pittsburgh possession at the Cincinnati 24-yard line. Bell ran 13 yards for the touchdown, and Roethlisberger’s completion for the conversion gave Pittsburgh a 28-21 lead.

Eslewhere, Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Seattle Seahawks stifled Philadelphia’s high-powered offence in a 24-14 victory over the Eagles on Sunday.

Wilson had 263 yards passing and ran for 48 to help the Seahawks (9-4) win their third straight. The defending Super Bowl champions have victories over NFC West-leading Arizona, San Francisco and Philadelphia in the last three weeks.

The Eagles (9-4) host Dallas (9-4) with first place in the NFC East at stake next week.

Denver’s CJ Anderson ran for three touchdowns as the Broncos overcame a rare unsteady outing by Peyton Manning to defeat the Buffalo Bills 24-17.

Manning’s streak of 51 straight games with a touchdown throw – three shy of Drew Brees’ NFL record – ended on a sun-splashed, almost still afternoon in Denver.

Despite three turnovers, the Broncos (10-3) won their third straight game since changing from a pass-oriented attack to a run-heavy approach.

At Glendale, Arizona, Kerwynn Williams rushed for 100 yards two days after being elevated from the Cardinals practice squad in a 17-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The NFC West-leading Cardinals (10-3) took the lead when Drew Stanton threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown in the third quarter.

Jamaal Charles scored two first-half touchdowns on a 63-yard run and 18-yard pass from Alex Smith, but the Chiefs (7-6) were shut out in the second half.

The Indianapolis Colts edged the Cleveland Browns 25-24 after Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to TY Hilton with 32 seconds left.

In other games, the Baltimore Ravens played more than 17 minutes before picking up a first down, then overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the Miami Dolphins 28-13, the Oakland Raiders defeated the San Francisco 49ers 24-13, the Carolina Panthers trounced the New Orleans Saints 41-10 and the Detroit Lions downed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-17.

The St Louis Rams have back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945 after a 24-0 domination of Washington, the Houston Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-13, the Minnesota Vikings overcame the New York Jets 30-24 in overtime and the New York Giants were 36-7 winners over the Tennessee Titans.

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Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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