But, a lead is never safe for the Bengals in this series, and they gave up a late advantage for the fourth time in the last five games against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh seemed to have its way with the Cincinnati defense all day between the 20s, as James Conner rushed for 111 yards and two touchdown on 19 carries in the final game before Le’Veon Bell is expected to return from a contract holdout, and Roethlisberger finished with 368 yards and one touchdown.
It didn’t matter Sunday who was on the field for Pittsburgh, as the Steelers took advantage of a depleted Bengals defense. Darqueze Dennard (right shoulder) and Shawn Williams (concussion) both left the game with injuries in the second and third quarters, respectively, and when the Steelers weren’t testing what was left of the defensive backs, they pounded the middle of the field with runs by Conner.
Despite its struggles, Cincinnati’s defense was fortunate enough to limit Pittsburgh to two field goals in the second half, but the Bengals’ offense couldn’t get anything going until the fourth quarter scoring drive. Cincinnati managed just four yards in the third quarter.
Special teams played a key role in both of the Bengals’ touchdowns before halftime.
Alex Erickson’s 47-yard kickoff return gave the Bengals a short field on their final drive of the second quarter, and Andy Dalton led the offense down the field to tie the game with 19 second left on the clock. Tyler Boyd capped the 44-yard drive with his second touchdown of the game and the teams went back to the locker rooms tied 14-14.
Cincinnati had just given up a touchdown on the previous drive.
Dennard nearly picked off a pass at the 1-yard line, but the officials ruled it a 29-yard catch for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Conner punched it in the next play to give Pittsburgh the lead with 1:07 left before the break.
Cincinnati’s first score also came with the help of a big play on special teams. The Bengals didn’t gain a yard on their first drive, but they flipped field position when the defense forced a three-and-out after Kevin Huber’s 62-yard punt, and the offense took advantage.
Green came up with a clutch 19-yard catch on third down to put the Bengals inside the 10-yard line and three plays later Boyd capped the 54-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown from Dalton for the first lead with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
Cincinnati nearly intercepted Ben Roethlisberger the next drive when Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard tipped a ball but Roethlisberger caught his own pass to retain possession. Smith-Schuster followed with a 22-yard catch on second-and-21 to put Pittsburgh on the 8-yard line on the last play of the quarter, and Conner finished it off with two carries to tie the game at 7-7 with 14:33 left before halftime.