The Steelers Carry On

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006

CINCINNATI, Jan. 8 -- Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said last week his team was "going into an alley" with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round of the playoffs, "and only one of us gets to come out."

Little could he know that the first victim of this rumble at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday would be his own Pro Bowl quarterback, Carson Palmer.

Moments after launching a 66-yard completion to wide receiver Chris Henry on the Bengals' second offensive play of the game, Palmer tore ligaments in his left knee, a season-ending injury, when 300-pound defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen was blocked into him from the quarterback's blind side by guard Eric Steinbach. Palmer crumpled on the field, writhing in pain, and had to be carted to the locker room as backup Jon Kitna trotted in to replace him.

Kitna, the Bengals' starter two years ago, led his emotionally charged team to early 10-0 and 17-7 leads, but the loss of Palmer and, four plays later, Henry, also with a knee injury, eventually was too much to overcome for Cincinnati. Playing in their first postseason game in 15 years, the Bengals unraveled in the second half as Pittsburgh's defense began dominating and Steelers second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, using a dazzling trick play for one 43-yard touchdown pass, rallied his team to a 31-17 victory in front of 65,870.

The Steelers' fifth straight triumph, and second win in this stadium this season, advanced them to a second-round game on the road against the AFC's top seed, the 14-2 Indianapolis Colts, on Sunday.

"I knew right away it was bad," Palmer said. "I felt my whole knee pop. It was just a sickening feeling because I knew what it was and I knew my season was over."

Lewis refused to blame Palmer's injury for the Bengals' loss.

"It's over," he said. "It's not devastating. Carson has an injury. He'll be back. We as a football team need to learn from this.

"We came here as a team and we have to leave here as a team. We need to understand it's about working through the tough times. . . . Keep your eye on the target. Do your job."

Bengals tackle Willie Anderson said Palmer's injury "raised our awareness in the huddle. Guys were ticked off, mad. We knew we didn't have our usual gunslinger in there. . . . You immediately thought it was a dirty hit. But I know Kimo. He's not a dirty player. He's a good guy and he plays hard. He was immediately remorseful. It's just an unfortunate play."

The Steelers came into the game with an 0-3 record in playoff road games under Coach Bill Cowher, who is now 8-2 in opening-round postseason games over his 14-year tenure. Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, matching his career high, and the Steelers, sending wave upon wave of blitzers, shut out the Bengals' struggling offense in the second half and intercepted two of Kitna's throws.

"I feel very badly about Carson Palmer," Cowher said. "It's an unfortunate accident. You hate to see someone's season end like that. . . . What happened was nothing that was intentional and I don't think anyone would interpret it that way."

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