Steelers Team Report
Yahoo! Sports

INSIDE SLANT

Pittsburgh is right back where it was last season after eight games—6-2 and atop the AFC North Division.

The Steelers would like to avoid a repeat to the second half of the 2009 season, however, when they lost their next five games and ran themselves right out of the playoffs, finishing 9-7.

Last season, the defense could not hold fourth-quarter leads in five losses. That eerie trend nearly reappeared in Cincinnati Sunday night. The previous time they played in Cincinnati, they lost leads of 13-0 and then an 11-point fourth-quarter lead before losing the game.

Monday, the Steelers held a 27-7 fourth-quarter lead and needed a pass breakup at the 2-yard line in the final minute to preserve a 27-21 victory.

“That’s what we do,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “We play close games and we win close games. When did we ever blow anyone out? I’d rather play a close game the whole way than have a big lead and lose it.”

Said linebacker James Farrior, “They beat us twice last year. They swept the whole division. They were the guys to beat. The AFC North championship goes through Cincinnati. It was definitely a big win for us. To come in and win an AFC North game on the road is a confidence boost for our team.”

The Steelers ended a three-game road trip, their first since 1994, winning twice. They return home Sunday night to play New England, which lost last week to Cleveland to match the Steelers at 6-2.

“We have a scalded Patriots outfit coming in,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

NOTES, QUOTES

William Gay’s block of Cincinnati’s punt in the first quarter was the first by the Steelers since Andre Frazier blocked one in Washington Nov. 3, 2008 against the Redskins. Gay’s block led to a 25-yard Jeff Reed field goal and a 10-0 lead.

• Pittsburgh, which was dreadful on special teams last season, jumped out to a 10-0 lead in Cincinnati because of a forced fumble on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt.

“We want to get as many yards as we can off of returns, but if we can get the ball out, we are going to get the ball out,” said Antwaan Randlle El, who returns punts.

• The Steelers dress only seven offensive linemen and lost three vs. the Bengals, but two came back and Mike Tomlin did not have to go to 6-foot-7 tight end Matt Spaeth to play tackle. Isn't the knock on Spaeth is that he doesn't block well???

“You’ve got to give those guys credit, for the guys that stepped up,” QB Ben Roethlisberger said. “There was a time that we thought Matt Spaeth was going to have to play right tackle for us. Guys answered the bell. I’m really proud of them, and I hope everybody gets healthy quick.”

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Player Notes

• WR Antwaan Randle El threw a 39-yard TD pass to Mike Wallace. He has now completed 21 of 26 passes in his career for 320 yards and five TDs in the regular season.

• WR Mike Wallace had a career high with 110 yards on five receptions in Cincinnati and leads the Steelers with 507 yards. Wallace also leads the NFL with an average of 23.0 yards per catch.

• LB James Harrison, who had 10 sacks last season when he made his third straight Pro Bowl, has seven at the midway point of the season.

• RB Rashard Mendenhall scored his seventh TD, halfway to the Steelers record of 14 set by Franco Harris in 1976.

• K Jeff Reed kicked a 53-yard field goal in Cincinnati, tying a career high. He also missed one from 46 yards, his sixth miss of the season. He missed only 10 in the previous three seasons combined.

Report Card Vs . BENGALS

Passing Offense: B—Ben Roethlisberger had a mediocre 17 of 27 night. He had 163 yards, one TD, one near-killer interception and a 76.6 passer rating. However, add in Antwaan Randle El’s TD pass of 39 yards to Mike Wallace and the team totaled a 94.6 passer rating.

Rushing Offense: B—The Steelers ran 32 times for 121 yards and one touchdown with Rashard Mendenhall getting 99 yards and a 4.5-yard average. Mendenhall cranked it up near the end when the Steelers were trying to clinch the game but Jeff Reed missed a field goal.

Pass Defense: B—Carson Palmer completed 22 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, both to Terrell Owens. But he threw an interception, he was sacked four times. Given two downs at the Steelers’ 12 to win the game at the end, he missed an open Owens in the end zone and his pass to rookie Jordan Shipley at the two was broken up by James Harrison and Ike Taylor.

Rush Defense: A—All of Cincinnati’s rushing yards came from Cedric Benson, who ran 18 times for 54 yards and had a long run of eight. He did run for a touchdown of one yard but even though the Bengals seemed determined at the beginning to run on the Steelers, they ultimately abandoned that idea.

Special Teams: B—The Steelers jumped in front 10-0 thanks to two plays on special teams. Rookie Emmanuel Sanders forced a fumble on the opening kick and rookie Jason Worilds recovered, leading to a Pittsburgh TD. William Gay blocked a punt, leading to a field goal. There were no returns of note on either side except for the 46-yard kickoff return by Cincinnati’s Bernard Scott. Kicker Jeff Reed was hot and cold, kicking one from 53 to tie a career high and another from 25, but when he had a chance to ice the game with four minutes left, he missed from 46.

Coaching: B—Bruce Arians failed to run the ball when he had a big lead in the second half and that helped open the door for the Bengals’ comeback from 20 points down to within six. But the staff did a good job juggling offensive lineman as three players left with injuries and they had only seven suited up.

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