Steelers beat Bengals, but get no help from Browns
After rallying to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-13, on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers could only watch, hope and pray for a similar comeback to unfold in Baltimore.
It didn’t happen.
Much to the chagrin of the players who remained on the field to watch the final moments of the Ravens-Browns game play out on the Jumbotron, Baltimore staved off a last-minute comeback to hold on for a 26-24 victory that solidified the AFC North title.
The Steelers entered the day needing to beat the Bengals and have the Browns knock off the Ravens in Baltimore. Only one-half of that equation worked out in the Steelers’ favor.
The Ravens (10-6) edged the Steelers (9-6-1) by one-half game for the division crown. The only hope for the Steelers to make the playoffs rests on the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts playing to a tie in the Sunday night game.
The Steelers overcame a 10-point first-half deficit against the Bengals, who entered the game with the worst defense in the NFL but nearly pulled off the upset.
Matt McCrane, signed to a contract Friday after an injury to Chris Boswell, kicked three field goals, including a 35-yarder with 1 minute, 56 seconds left that snapped a 13-13 tie for the Steelers.
The Steelers played the regular-season finale without All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, linebacker Vince Williams and safety Sean Davis because of injuries.
Minus Brown, the Steelers struggled to find a deep passing game aside from a 47-yarder to rookie James Washington that led to a tying touchdown in the third quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger was 31 of 45 for 287 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. James Conner rushed for 64 yards on 14 carries and came within 27 yards of a 1,000-yard season.
The Bengals entered the game allowing 29.3 points per game, the most in the NFL. Yet it took McCrane’s 39-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to account for the Steelers’ first points.
The boos came out when the Steelers punted on their first two series of the third quarter. A 47-yard pass to Washington awakened the crowd, and the stadium was hopping when JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 11-yard touchdown catch tied the score 10-10 with 3:50 left in the quarter.
The completion to Washington pushed Roethlisberger over the 5,000-yard mark for the season. He became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes did it minutes earlier to become the sixth.
On the next drive, Roethlisberger hit Vance McDonald for 22 yards on a third-and-7, and he converted a fourth-and-4 with a 6-yard completion to the Bengals 29.
When the drive stalled, McCrane came on and barely pushed his 47-yard attempt over the crossbar and inside the right upright to give the Steelers their first lead, 13-10, with 8:35 remaining.
No sooner had “Renegade” played over the loudspeakers than Bengals running Joe Mixon broke a 51-yard run to the Steelers 15. Randy Bullock kicked a 32-yard field goal to tie it 13-13 with 6:17 to play.
The Steelers faced a third-and-10 at the Cincinnati 24 when Roethlisberger and Eli Rogers hooked up for a 10-yard gain. Facing a fourth down at the two-minute warning, the Steelers sent out McCrane to attempt a third field goal.
McCrane connected from 35 yards for a 16-13 advantage.
The Bengals turned the ball over with 1:08 remaining when a fourth-and-5 pass fell incomplete, and the Steelers ran out the clock.
The Bengals took a 7-0 lead with 12:37 left in the second quarter when Shawn Williams intercepted Roethlisberger at the Cincinnati 42 and weaved downfield 58 yards for a touchdown. Roethlisberger complained that the Bengals were offsides, resulting in a free play, but no flag was thrown, and nobody could catch Williams as he finished off the touchdown return.
After another Steelers punt, the Bengals put together a 12-play drive that was capped by Bullock’s 49-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 2:12 left in the half.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.