The Cincinnati Bengals capitalized on a wayward pass by Terry Bradshaw in the first quarter and two fumbles by Pittsburgh in the second half to beat the Steelers, 17-10, today.
It was just enough of a point differential for the Bengals to win the AFC Central title if both teams finish the regular season with 9-5 records. The Steelers won their first meeting, 20-14.
The Bengals play at Houston and the Steelers at San Diego next Sunday.
On the other hand, if the Steelers and Bengals both lose next week and finish with 3-6 records. Pittsburgh would be the division champion because of a better division record. 4-2 to 3-3.
Ken Anderson brought the Bengals back from a dreadful first half, in they were outgained 240 yards to 103 and outscored 10-7.
He turned the game around with a 57-yard pass to wide receiver Billy Brooks to set up a 25-yard field goal by Chris Bahr in the third quarter and passed 43 yards to wide receiver Pat McInally for a touchdown in the same period.
Both scores followed fumbles by the Steelers, the first by Franco Harris and the second by James Smith on a kickoff return after Bahr's three-pointer.
The irony of Harris fumbling twice was that he gained 101 yards in 20 carries in the first half, but ended up with minus yardage in the second half on five more carries.
In the first quarter, the Bengals scored when left cornerback Lemar Parrish intercepted Bradshaw's first pass of the game and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
Bradshaw then directed the Steelers to a 10-point second quarter.
First they went 80 yards, with a 15-yard pass to Harris and a 22-yarder to tight end Bennie Cunningham. Harris scored on a quick-count counter play from five yards out, in a push that had begun in the first quarter.
Then, after a clipping penalty set them back to their 13-yard-line, Bradshaw began moving the Steelers.
Rocky Bleier ran for 16 yards and Harris for 18 in the push and Bradshaw made good on a fourth-and-11 gamble with a 20-yard pass to a wide receiver Lynn Swann, to the Cincinnati seven-yard line.
Set back by an illegal-motion penalty on third and 15. Bradshaw's pass was deflected by linebacker Bo Harris. Roy Gerela then kicked his 32-yard field goal.
After the Bengals had beaten the Steelers for the first time in six games, coach Bill Johnson let himself savor the turnabout.
"This takes care of all that garbage about Pittsburgh's superiority and having a psychological edge," he said. "We beat them, and we beat them right.
"One guy I want to single out is (offensive coordinator) Boyd Dowler. He has been taking a lot of (criticism) about our offense."
Dowler was informed of the head coach's remark and pretended not to know of any criticism, but McInally explained it.
"Boyd followed a genius in his job, Bill Walsh, who is now (head coach) at Sandford," said Mcinally. "Boyd has helped my pass-receiving and punting. He is tall leke me (McInally is 6-foot-l). I thought pass-catching would distract me from concentrating on my punting, but it relaxed me instead."
McInally said of his 43-yard scoring catch that won the game, "I was supposed to run deep and distract the Pittsburgh defense while running back Levcil Elliot caught the ball."
"But all of a sudden I was by my guy, and I'm not a blazer. I said to myself, 'I hope he throws to me,' but they never do, of course. As I left the huddle, Ken (Anderson) had said to me, 'I want you to get clear, because I want to throw to Lenvil.'"
Anderson's pass sailed over the head of cornerback J. T. Thomas to McInally in the end zone.