PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Steelers honored defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau with a pregame ceremony for his 50 years as an NFL coach and player. His league-best defense found the best possible way to pay tribute to him.
The Steelers limited the depleted Bengals to six first downs following an early touchdown drive and found just enough offense themselves amid the snow flurries to control the clock behind Ben Roethlisberger and beat Cincinnati 27-10 on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh (8-3) wasn’t dominating—except defensively—in winning its fifth in a row over Cincinnati (1-9-1), its longest streak since an eight-game run in the early 1990s. The Steelers trailed 7-0 until Roethlisberger threw a 3-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller, their first touchdown in more than seven quarters, and didn’t take control until backup running backs Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell led a third-quarter drive that made it 20-7.
“It just felt good to score,” Roethlisberger said.
For the Steelers’ defense, it felt good to throttle Cincinnati following an early TD drive.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, under constant pressure from a Pittsburgh defense that leads the NFL in almost every major statistical category, was below 100 yards passing until a short drive in the fourth quarter ended with Shayne Graham’s 26-yard field goal. Fitzpatrick finished 20-of-37 for 168 yards, but the Bengals were outgained 364-208.
“It’s definitely a big honor for him,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said of LeBeau, one of the league’s top defensive minds and a former Bengals head coach. “You honor him and you want to go out there and win that game for him.”
Not having wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, the former Chad Johnson, made it a lot harder for the Bengals. He was deactivated for violating team rules following an apparent flare-up at a team meeting, though coach Marvin Lewis wouldn’t explain what Ocho Cinco did.
“It’s a curveball for us, but we had guys who stepped in and knew the game plan and knew how to execute it,” Fitzpatrick said. “Nothing changed. It was more of a curveball.”
Roethlisberger kept with the baseball analogy, saying the wind and swirling snow on a 32-degree night made it tough to throw, even though he was 17-of-30 for 243 yards and was turnover-free for a second game in a row.
“It was a blizzard out there, the wind was coming from the side and a lot of balls were going sideways. I threw a lot of sliders out there,” Roethlisberger said. “It was hard to see.”
Roethlisberger himself scored from the 8 late in the game as Pittsburgh held a more than 10-minute edge in time of possession.
Before that, Russell ran 2 yards for his first NFL touchdown with 16 seconds left in the third after Moore, benched four days before after being stopped at the goal line by San Diego on fourth-and-inches, ran four times for 21 yards and made a 22-yard reception during a 64-yard drive. Starting running back Willie Parker was on the sideline with an aggravated knee injury after being held to 37 yards on 14 carries.
Jeff Reed also kicked field goals of 37 and 38 yards that weren’t sure things given the slippery field conditions that helped slow a Bengals offense that was loaded with backups due to injuries—reserves played most of the game at nine positions.
The 20-degree wind chill didn’t prevent Pittsburgh’s defensive starters from playing in short sleeves—much like the late Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center, once did in miserably cold games during the 1970s.
Ocho Cinco’s absence allowed the Steelers to double cover T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who was coming off eight consecutive games with six or more catches but found little open space downfield and ended with four catches for 20 yards.
“They did what they felt was best and whether I agree with it or disagree with it, it doesn’t matter,” Houshmandzadeh said of Ocho Cinco’s absence. “He (Lewis) is the head coach and Mike Brown owns the team and they are going to do what they want. I’m sure he would have helped, but we’ve lost eight games with him.”
The Steelers, held without a touchdown during the first 11-10 victory in NFL history against San Diego, got off to another slow start offensively before scoring on Miller’s catch in traffic in the end zone, but not until Cincinnati scored first on Fitzpatrick’s 10-yard pass to Glenn Holt on third-and-6 late in the first.
Pittsburgh, getting good field position because of Kyle Larson’s 30-yard punt in a game in which both punters were miserable, tied it two plays after coach Mike Tomlin went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 4, with Russell barely getting the yard to keep the drive going. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for 37 yards earlier in the drive.
Reed’s 37-yarder with 1:52 left before halftime put Pittsburgh ahead 10-7. Cincinnati had a chance to tie it or go ahead but couldn’t take advantage after Pittsburgh wide receiver Limas Sweed, covering a punt, accidentally allowed the ball to strike his left hand and the Bengals recovered at the Steelers’ 39.
“It’s been the tale of our season,” Houshmandzadeh said of the Bengals’ league-worst offense. “The defense plays great, the offense is bad, basically.”
The Steelers may be bringing in a new punter after Paul Ernster averaged 28.4 yards on five punts. Tomlin called the punting “horrible.” … The Steelers are 4-0 against the AFC North. … Pittsburgh led 20-11 in first downs. … Steelers WR Santonio Holmes left with a concussion after being leveled by safety Chris Crocker. … Steelers DE Brett Keisel also left with an apparent knee injury. … Parker missed four games with a sprained knee earlier this season. … Fitzpatrick was sacked once after being dropped seven times by Pittsburgh last month. … The Steelers had 40 penalty yards after having 115 against San Diego.