Steelers 27, Bengals 13
Not yet, Bengals. Not quite yet.
In front of a record crowd roaring for a changing of the guard, the upstart Cincinnati Bengals got put in their place by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who proved on Sunday that they're still the team to beat in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes in his return from a knee injury, and the Steelers used their proven formula -- run the ball and play defense -- to grind out a 27-13 victory.
"You have to understand that we're the champions until proven otherwise," said linebacker Joey Porter, part of a defense that made Carson Palmer look ordinary.
The Steelers (4-2) have a knack for winning tough games in tough places. They dominated the second half in front of a Cincinnati-record crowd of 66,104, and Pittsburgh set a franchise record with its 10th straight road victory.
In the end, it was Hines Ward -- not Chad Johnson -- getting the last dance. He kicked up his heels following a third-quarter touchdown that essentially clinched it.
"They were 5-1, and everybody was on the Cincinnati Bengals bandwagon," Ward said. "For us to come in here and win the way we did, it goes a long way for our organization."
For the first time in their stadium's six-year history, the Bengals (5-2) had the fans on their side for a home game against the Steelers. There was more orange than yellow in the crowd that turned out on a raw, rainy day -- the kind the Steelers love to dominate with defense and runs.
Willie Parker's 37-yard touchdown run highlighted Pittsburgh's 221 yards on the ground. Parker ran for 131 yards overall, and injury-slowed Jerome Bettis even got in a few licks on a defense that gives up 4.9 yards per try.
"We knew coming in that if we wanted to control this division, this was the game," said Bettis, who had 56 yards.
Ward's four-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter made it 24-6 and gave him a chance to rub it in with a Riverdance-style celebration, poking fun at Johnson's antics.
"It was spur of the moment," Ward said. "Chad and I have become good friends. He said he had one [dance] for us if he ever got in. I said, 'Why not try?' I didn't know how to do it. You could see I was a bad Riverdancer."
Johnson got one chance to dance, but his opening-drive touchdown was overturned on review. The Steelers' defense took it from there, making the Bengals look far inferior -- though they steadfastly refused to acknowledge it.
"I think we're better than them," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who led the Bengals with seven catches. "They won the game and I'm sure they feel like they're better than us, but I don't feel like it."
Palmer had tied Peyton Manning's NFL record of nine consecutive games with a passer rating of 100. The last time Palmer struggled was in his last game against the Steelers, a 19-14 loss in Cincinnati last season.