Steelers crumble late, lose to unbeaten Bengals
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger's return wasn't enough to prevent the Bengals from getting off to their best start in franchise history.
And now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in deep trouble.
Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass with 2:57 to go, and the Bengals picked off Roethlisberger twice in the fourth quarter while rallying for a 16-10 victory Sunday that kept them unbeaten and in command of the AFC North.
The Bengals are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history.
The defending AFC North champion Steelers (4-4) hoped Roethlisberger's return after missing four games with a sprained knee would kick-start them. Instead, they fall apart in the closing minutes.
"Disappointed in my play and letting this team down, letting the fans down," Roethlisberger said. "This one is on me. I'm fine with taking that blame and letting everyone know that I have to play better."
In addition to falling to .500, the Steelers lost running back Le'Veon Bell indefinitely to a knee injury. Bell twisted his right knee beneath him as he was tackled in the second quarter and had to be carted off the field. Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that Bell was being evaluated.
Bell had 10 carries for 45 yards and two catches for 13 when he got hurt.
"It's always an emotional blow when you lose any guy, let alone a guy and a star like Le'Veon Bell," said DeAngelo Williams, who ran for 71 yards as his replacement.
After leading most of the game, this one slipped away from the Steelers at the end.
Shawn Williams' diving sideline interception at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line set up Dalton's 9-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, who had another big game against the Steelers. He finished with 11 catches for 118 yards.
"At key moments at the end of the game like that, we have to keep playing shutout defense," cornerback Antwon Blake said. "We let a few things get away from us."
Reggie Nelson's second interception set up Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal with 1:47 to go. The Steelers drove to the Cincinnati 16-yard line with 4 seconds left, but Roethlisberger's pass sailed out of the end zone to finish it.
Roethlisberger was 28 of 45 for 262 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and three sacks. Dalton was 23 of 38 for 231 yards with a touchdown, two fourth-quarter interceptions and three sacks.
The Bengals ended a three-game losing streak to the Steelers, getting only their second victory in their past six visits to Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger ran out for introductions in a Steelers baseball cap with both arms raised as the crowd gave him the loudest ovation. And it didn't take long to remind them of what they'd missed.
Roethlisberger completed four of five passes during an opening 80-yard touchdown drive. His 1-yard toss to Antonio Brown capped a seven-minute, 14-second possession the kind of drive Pittsburgh had trouble pulling off in his absence.
The Steelers managed only one field goal the rest of the way. Roethlisberger sailed a few passes and was off-target at times.
"We went down the field on the opening drive just fine," he said. "It was just bad football on my part (the rest of the game) and I apologize."
The Bengals wasted several scoring chances in the second half as Pittsburgh's defense tried to hold on.
Cameron Heyward blocked Nugent's 42-yard field goal try late in the third quarter, and the defense picked off Dalton twice in the fourth quarter. After Cincinnati got a first-and-goal at the 5 early in the fourth quarter, Blake intercepted Dalton's third-down pass in the end zone and returned it 42 yards.
Dalton came into the game leading the NFL in passer rating and fourth-quarter rating. He managed to pull off the short TD drive that decided it, making a 23-yard shovel pass to Giovani Bernard while scrambling on a third-down play to set up the score.
NOTES: Dalton's 23rd career win on the road matched Dan Marino, Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for most by a quarterback in his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era. ... Roethlisberger became the fifth active quarterback to throw for 40,000 yards career, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. ... Bengals MLB Vontaze Burfict played for the first time after missing the first six games while recovering from offseason knee surgery. He had five tackles and got more playing time after LB Rey Maualuga had a calf injury in the first quarter.