CINCINNATI (AP) — No matter how high the stakes, how big the deficit or how late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger and his tough-to-catch playmakers always find a way to leave the Bengals wondering what just happened.
Chris Boswell kicked a field goal on the final play shortly after Antonio Brown caught a 6-yard touchdown pass — taking a hit to the head while landing in the end zone — and the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off another improbable comeback against the stunned Bengals, rallying for a 23-20 victory Monday night.
Down 17-0 early, the Steelers (10-2) extended their best start since 2004 in a physical game with a couple frightening injuries. Brown’s touchdown tied it at 20 with 3:51 to go — safety George Iloka was penalized for hitting him in the head after the catch. Boswell won it with 38-yard field goal, his second straight winner in the closing seconds.
Both teams know the script.
“It sort of reminded me of the playoff game — what was it, two years ago?” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It’s sort of the best reality TV show out there — better than the Kardashians.”
Two years ago, the Steelers came to Paul Brown Stadium and pulled out an improbable 18-16 playoff win set up by Cincinnati’s fumble and personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Boswell won that one with a 35-yard kick with 14 seconds left.
Desperate for a win to salvage their playoff hopes, the Bengals (5-7) still couldn’t find a way to beat their Ohio River rival, not even after getting off to the big early lead. They’ve dropped six straight and nine of 10 against Pittsburgh.
“Very disappointing,” said Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who had two touchdown catches in the first half. “We had it.”
Nope. They never do, not against the Steelers.
“We’ve got a no-blink group,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve been in this situation before, and in this stadium before.”
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates his touchdown with his teammates in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Cincinnati.
The hard-hitting game was full of personal fouls, penalties and injuries that could have a long-term effect, especially for the AFC North leaders.
Pittsburgh lost leading tackler Ryan Shazier to a back injury in the first quarter. The linebacker was taken off the field on a cart and taken to a hospital for evaluation. Tomlin had no details about his injury or his prognosis after the game. ESPN reported that Tomlin went to the hospital after the game to check on Shazier.
“Ryan is one of the biggest players on this defense,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “When we need a big play, he’s one of the guys we look to. It’s going to be tough.”
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was carted off in the fourth quarter after JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled him with a high hit, then taunted him by walking over him.
There were four penalties for unnecessary roughness, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, one for roughing the passer and another for taunting. The Bengals self-destructed with 13 penalties for a team-record 173 yards.
The Steelers remain tied with New England for best record in the conference. They host the Patriots on Dec. 17.
Bottled up by Cincinnati’s aggressive defense in the first half, Pittsburgh’s playmakers made the difference down the stretch, just as they have all season. They rallied to beat the Packers 31-28 last Sunday on Boswell’s 53-yard field goal on the final play, which was set up by Brown’s incredible sideline catch.
After missing practice last week with an injured toe, Brown ran gingerly in pregame warmups and had another big game, finishing with 101 yards in eight catches.
Le’Veon Bell ran for 76 yards and had another 106 yards on five catches, including a 35-yard touchdown play in which he remarkably kept his balance along the sideline — cornerback William Jackson pulled up, thinking there was no way he could stay inbound.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Cincinnati.
It’s the first time that Bell and Brown each had 100 yards receiving in the same game. Ben Roethlisberger was 24 of 40 for 290 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
The Steelers have won 11 straight prime-time games, including four already this season against the Lions (Sunday night), the Titans (Thursday night) and the Packers (last Sunday night). It’s been a horrific time slot for the Bengals, who are 11-24 on Monday night, dropping their past four.
Roethlisberger has won his last seven prime-time starts, throwing 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. In those games, Brown has 58 catches for 883 yards with 15 touchdowns.
IN YOUR FACE
Bell and Burfict have a long-running feud on Twitter, and it got in-your-face right away. After Jones picked off a pass to end the Steelers’ opening possession, Bell shoved Burfict’s facemask and drove him to the ground, drawing a personal foul.
Roethlisberger became the eighth quarterback in NFL history to reach 50,000 yards passing, joining Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, John Elway and Eli Manning.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs in a touchdown against Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Cincinnati.