With the Steelers playing on national TV for the second straight week, the Pittsburgh running attack proved worthy of the Sunday night spotlight to help deliver the team back to .500.
Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 122 yards and Chris Rainey produced his first NFL touchdown early in the fourth quarter, providing the winning points in the Steelers’ 24-17 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. With its first road win in four tries, Pittsburgh (3-3) moved ahead of the Bengals (3-4) in the AFC North and crept closer to division-leading Baltimore (5-2).
The Steelers entered the game as one of the NFL’s weakest running teams, with an average of 75 rushing yards per outing. But even with top tailbacks Rashard Mendenall and Isaac Redmond and center Maurkice Pouncey out due to injuries, Pittsburgh rushers generated 167 yards on 29 carries, an average of 5.8 per attempt.
Dwyer’s career night featured a robust 7.2 yards per carry, and the third-year Steeler played a starring role in an impressive closing drive that clinched the win. Dwyer’s backfield counterpart Rainey had only four carries, but his darting touchdown run broke a 17-17 tie with 14:17 left in regulation time.
As one would imagine considering the rushing success, the Steelers’ offensive line enjoyed its best effort of the season, getting great push downfield while also limiting the Bengals defense to three sacks of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The early-season MVP candidate completed 27 of 37 passes for 278 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Despite several conspicuous drops in the game, Steelers receiver Mike Wallace got going in the second half on a series of short passes. He finished with eight receptions for 52 yards, but it was a 26-yard catch by Emmanuel Sanders late in the third quarter that set up Rainey’s slicing touchdown sprint on a perfectly-blocked play.
Playing with the lead, the Steelers defense turned in a pair of quick three-and-out stops to give the offense an opportunity to close out the contest. The Roethlisberger-led unit did just that, culminating in Dwyer’s 31-yard gain to shift the Steelers into kneel-down mode.
Bengals sophomore signal-caller Andy Dalton was unable to match his veteran counterpart, connecting on just half of his 28 throws for 105 yards. Dalton threw for a touchdown in the second quarter to give Cincinnati a 14-3 lead, but the Steelers defense gained strength as the night progressed, limiting the Bengals’ passing game and the running lanes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who gained 69 yards on 18 carries.
Roethlisberger’s 9-yard touchdown dart to tight end Heath Miller – and another successful throw to Miller on the subsequent two-point conversion – sent the Steelers’ first division game of the year to halftime tied 14-14. Miller caught six balls for 53 yards, outdone by only Antonio Brown (seven catches, 96 yards) in receiving output.
While the longview of this game will be predominantly positive, shaky defense and turnover trouble pushed the Steelers into an early 11-point hole. After Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal, the Bengals’ Cedric Peerman capped an 80-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to put Cincinnati up 7-3 after one quarter.
Roethlisberger, who earlier threw an interception to safety Chris Crocker, fumbled on a sack early in the second quarter to give the home team the ball inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. Moments later, Dalton threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to fellow second-year star A.J. Green, although Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor kept the former Georgia Bulldog under control otherwise.
Suisham booted a 47-yarder late in the second quarter, preceding Miller’s touchdown. The Steelers kicker also exchanged field goals with Bengals kicker Mike Nugent in the third.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 11 tackles, while safety Ryan Clark had seven, including five solo stops. The Bengals Vontaze Burdict threw a national coming-out party with a game-high 15 tackles, 13 by himself.
Pittsburgh returns home to Heinz Field next Sunday to host the Washington Redskins at 1 p.m.