Ward, Steelers Top Bengals
Sunday, December 2, 2007; 11:59 PM
PITTSBURGH -- So there is a home-field advantage in the Bengals-Steelers rivalry, bad field in Pittsburgh and all. Hines Ward caught two touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger to break the Steelers' record for career scoring catches, and Pittsburgh ended a seven-game winning streak by road teams in their AFC North rivalry with the Bengals by winning 24-10 Sunday night.
Getting their offense back after being held to one touchdown in two games by the losing-record Jets and winless Dolphins, the Steelers (9-3) shook off an early 7-0 deficit to open a two-game division lead over the Cleveland Browns (7-5) and all but eliminate the Bengals (4-8) for a third successive season.
Two seasons ago, the Steelers won a wild-card playoff game in Cincinnati and, last season, kept the Bengals out of the postseason by winning there on the final day of the regular season. Now, the Bengals can't win the division, finish no better than 8-8 during a 16th non-winning season in their last 17 _ and even a four-game winning streak probably wouldn't get them into the playoffs as a wild card.
The home-field win was the first in the series since the Steelers beat the Bengals in Pittsburgh 28-17 in 2004. Cincinnati failed to become the first team to win in Pittsburgh for three consecutive seasons since Heinz Field opened in 2001.
On another rainy night in Pittsburgh _ the second there in seven days for a prime-time game _ the Steelers' offense and defense held up and so did their much-criticized playing field that was so bad for last Monday's 3-0 win over the Dolphins that an NFL operations official stayed in town all week to monitor the conditions.
Roethlisberger, who also scrambled 6 yards for a touchdown, ended a 66-yard drive immediately before halftime with a 2-yard TD flip to Ward that made it 17-7. Roethlisberger also hit Ward on an 8-yard scoring pass late in the third quarter that expanded the lead to 14 points and gave Ward 64 career TD catches, one more than Hall of Famer John Stallworth.
Heinz Field was an offense-stopping marshland Monday after more than an inch of rain fell atop a layer of sod installed only hours before. But the Bengals repeatedly stopped themselves in this one as they managed only a field goal the rest of the way after Rudi Johnson scored on a 1-yard run on their opening drive.
Helped by a good week of weather, the field was in much better shape Sunday, with no mushy spots or standing water and several new sections of grass in place at midfield that improved footing.
The field held up even as a steady rain began shortly after kickoff, causing both Roethlisberger and the Bengals' Carson Palmer to begin sailing throws over the heads of receivers. One such pass tipped off Ward's fingers directly to Madieu Williams for an interception midway through the first quarter that gave Cincinnati a chance to build on its 7-0 lead.
But the Bengals couldn't sustain any drives the rest of the half, with Shayne Graham missing a 43-yard field goal that would have made it 10-0.
After that successful opening drive, Palmer was only 11-of-37 to finish 17-of-44 for 183 yards. Roethlisberger was 21-of-32 for 184 yards and two interceptions.
The Steelers, held without a touchdown for seven quarters dating to the second quarter of their 19-16 overtime loss to the Jets on Nov. 18, responded by putting together TD drives of 66 and 67 yards in the first half. They also turned Glenn Holt's fumble on a kickoff return into Jeff Reed's 21-yard field goal.
Roethlisberger was 8-of-12 for all 66 yards on the 12-play drive that ended with his 2-yard pass to Ward.
Notes:@ The Steelers are 5-0 in the division with one game to play, Dec. 30 at Baltimore, and 7-0 at home. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won a challenge for the first time this season when Willie Parker's fumble on the second play of the third quarter that was apparently returned for a touchdown, was overturned on review. Parker did lose two fumbles later in the half, one that was unsuccessfully challenged by Tomlin, but ran 28 times for 87 yards.