Steelers rough up Bengals, 33-20
CINCINNATI — The Steelers weren't about to get pushed around or lose their crown, either. Not in Cincinnati, anyway.
The defending AFC North champions got into a midfield rumble during pregame warmups and kept it up from there, roughing up the Bengals 33-20 on Sunday as the whole playoff picture changed with one quarterback's tackle.
Andy Dalton broke his right thumb while making a tackle on his interception, and the Steelers battered backup AJ McCarron while preventing the Bengals (10-3) from clinching the division on their home field.
"A lot was made this week of them being able to clinch the division and get into the playoffs," said Ben Roethlisberger, who improved to 19-4 in NFL games in his native Ohio. "And we didn't want us to be the reason that they got in."
The Steelers (8-5) led the whole way, sending the Bengals to their first lopsided loss of the season.
"That game — it was grimy out there," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "That's how we like to play. Once they started yacking and all of that, we knew that's the game we like to play."
William Gay returned one of McCarron's passes 23 yards for a touchdown, and Roethlisberger had another good day as Pittsburgh's resurgent offense kept rolling. Pittsburgh has scored 30 points in five straight games, a franchise record.
Dalton's injury: The game — and potentially Cincinnati's season — turned on one interception. Stephon Truitt picked off Dalton's shovel pass in the first quarter, and Dalton broke his right thumb while making the tackle.
He will see a specialist on Monday and get a better idea how many weeks he will miss. Dalton wore a black cast on the hand.
Dalton has been one of the NFL's most durable quarterbacks, missing only half a game during his five seasons because of injury. He was leading the league in passer rating heading into the game.
Now, the Bengals' chances are in the hands of a second-year quarterback from Alabama who missed all of his rookie season with a sore passing shoulder. McCarron threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, who ran past cornerback Antwon Blake, but also threw a floating sideline pass that Gay returned for a touchdown and a 23-7 lead early in the second half.
McCarron, who had thrown only four passes in a mop-up role before Sunday, finished 22 of 32 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions that led to Steelers touchdowns.
The Bengals had the fewest injured players in the league heading into the game, but also lost tight end Tyler Eifert to a concussion in the first half.
Steelers hitting their stride: The Steelers have recovered from significant losses of their own — Roethlisberger missing time with a sprained knee, running back Le'Veon Bell out for the season with a knee injury — and hit their stride in the last five games.
Roethlisberger has been at his best. He went 30 of 39 for 282 yards with an interception as the Steelersprotected a big lead in the second half. DeAngelo Williams ran for a pair of touchdowns, and Chris Boswell made field goals from 42, 47, 45 and 31 yards.
The Steelers had looked forward to the rematch in Cincinnati since the Bengals' 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1, one that ended with trash talking and tough feelings. The dislike bubbled out during warmups when players from both teams got into a brief shouting-and-shoving match at midfield.
Also, Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones — who was inactive with a foot injury — sent a profane tweet about Pittsburgh pregame.
"We're going to defend ourselves aggressively," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Those confrontations occurred on our side of the ball after plays, outside of the ball, or outside of the 50 in pregame. Hey, that's our side of the 50."
By the fourth quarter, all the drama was gone. Bengals fans headed for the exits after Robert Golden picked off McCarron with 5:14 to go, leaving Steelers fans to twirl their Terrible Towels in celebration as Pittsburgh scored a clinching touchdown.
Notes: The Steelers have won their last nine games in December. ... It was only second time in the last seven games that the Bengals allowed more than 10 points. They came into the game having allowed the fewest points in the NFL. ... Tuitt's INT was the Steelers' sixth red zone takeaway this season. ... Reggie Nelson had an interception for the fifth straight game, a Bengals record. Nelson has six INTs in his last seven games against Roethlisberger.