Week 18 Game Recap: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Cincinnati Bengals 17
What you need to know
The Steelers entered the game without a road win in the playoffs under HC Bill Cowher. They overcame a ten point deficit to make that statistic obsolete by the end of the day.
Ben Roethlisberger only attempted 19 passes during the game as the Steelers looked to establish the run. When he did throw the ball, Roethlisberger was very efficient. He completed 14 of his 19 attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns. Willie Parker, Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson were the recipients.
Willie Parker started the game at running back but was not particularly effective until he caught a 19 yard pass for a touchdown. Jerome Bettis was initially called into action in a short yardage situation on the Steelers’ fourth possession. He later ran in a five yard touchdown and ended the day as the Steelers’ leading rusher after gaining yards late in the game.
The Steelers started slowly on defense but became much more effective as the game wore on. They pressured Kitna well in the second half, registering three sacks and two interceptions on the day. Quincy Morgan was lost to injury early in the game after being hurt during a kick return.
The Bengals were playing their first playoff game in 15 years.
Carson Palmer completed a 66 yard pass to Chris Henry on his second snap of the game. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Palmer was hit by Kimo Von Oelhoffen on the play and had to leave the game. He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee and will undergo surgery. Some sources are also reporting that Palmer tore his MCL in addition to his ACL. Chris Henry fell to the ground a few plays later with a knee injury and was also unable to continue.
Jon Kitna replaced Palmer and played well in the first half. He was 14 of 20 for 109 yards and a seven yard touchdown completion to T.J. Houshmandzadeh by the half, but fared less well in the second half as the Steelers’ defense applied more pressure.
Rudi Johnson broke a 20 yard touchdown run in the first quarter as the Steelers missed several tackles, but he only had four carries in the second half as the Steelers assumed command.
The Bengals’ defense played hard in the first half and were quick to the tackle, but they gave up several big plays in the second half including a 43 yard touchdown on a trick play.
What you ought to know
Roethlisberger was not asked to throw the ball very often and only attempted 19 passes in the game. He was wary as he threw nine interceptions during the regular season and four of those came in the games against the Bengals. When he did pass, he had a lot of success. His first big play of the day came on a 19 yard touchdown completion to Willie Parker. The play came when Parker faked a block and was left clear to run in a short pass. Roethlisberger’s longest completion of the day came on the Steelers’ fourth possession when he found Cedrick Wilson for a 54 yard gain. He completed the drive with a five yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. He almost hit Randle El on a 45 yard pass to the end zone on the Steelers’ first possession of the second half, but Randle El could not complete the catch. He did however draw an interference call. On the following drive, the Steelers executed a beautiful trick play. Roethlisberger handed off to Randle El who ran wide and threw a lateral back to Roethlisberger. With Cedrick Wilson wide open as the Bengals’ defense were all following the original play, Roethlisberger found Wilson for a 43 yard touchdown. Roethlisberger used his feet when he had to, scrambling for six yards and a first down when all his receivers were covered. He ended the day with three touchdown passes and 208 passing yards.
Parker started the game for the Steelers and had limited success on the ground as the Bengals focused on stopping the run. He had a 15 yard gain ruled out due to a false start penalty as the Steelers opened with three such penalties on their opening seven plays. Parker had a four yard run on second and four to bring up a first down. Later on the same drive, Parker faked a block on Brian Simmons and made himself available as a receiver. Roethlisberger’s short pass turned into a 19 yard touchdown for Parker. Late in the game, Parker caught a 13 yard pass to keep one drive alive. He ended the day with just 38 rushing yards on 16 carries, but he caught three of his four targets for a total of 41 yards and a touchdown.
|RB Jerome Bettis, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 10 - 52 - 1|
Bettis did not enter the game until the Steelers’ fourth possession when they were in a short yardage situation. On the same drive, Bettis bobbled a pitch and chose to throw the ball. With Heath Miller open in the end zone, Bettis underthrew the pass. He scored on a five yard run on the Steelers’ opening possession of the second half and broke a 25 yard run on second and three later in the game. Bettis ended the day as the Steelers’ leading rusher, gaining 52 yards and a score on ten carries, and has eight touchdowns in the last six games.
Haynes gave the Steelers their opening first down with a 14 yard reception on the first drive of the game. He carried the ball three times late in the game and gained first downs on consecutive plays with runs of 16 and 26 yards.3
|WR Antwaan Randle El, Pass: 0 - 1 - 0 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 1 - 5 - 0, Rec: 2 - 15 - 0 (4 targets)|
Randle El gained five yards on a reverse on the Steelers’ third drive of the game, and also drew a 15 yard penalty as he was hit out of bounds. He made a superb diving catch on the following drive for a 15 yard gain and a first down. On the Steelers’ opening possession of the second half, Randle El was targeted in the end zone on a 45 yard pass. The ball was deflected by the defender and Randle El was hit as he tried to make the catch to draw an interference penalty. He was involved in a trick play when he carried the ball before throwing a lateral to Roethlisberger who was able to find Cedrick Wilson open for a 43 yard touchdown. Randle El had the chance to throw the ball himself on the following drive, but he was unable to find an open receiver from three yards out.
Wilson was only targeted three times during the game, but he had a big effect on the outcome. His first catch came on the Steelers’ fourth possession when he brought in a 54 yard pass from Roethlisberger. He had a seven yard catch for a first down on the following drive. His last catch came on a trick play when Randle El carried the ball, threw a lateral to Roethlisberger, and then watched as Roethlisberger found a wide open Wilson for a 43 yard score. Wilson finished with 108 yards and a touchdown from his three receptions.
Ward had an extremely quiet day, but extended his streak to five touchdown receptions in his last five playoff games. He caught a five yard pass in the end zone from Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ fourth drive. Ward’s only other catch went for a five yard gain and he only saw four targets in the game.
Miller was only targeted three times. The first two came on third down plays, and he made both catches but failed to convert either for a first down. His final target came in the end zone when Jerome Bettis bobbled a pitch and decided to throw the ball. The ball landed at Miller’s feet.
Tuman caught the only ball thrown his way, gaining nine yards on the play.
Reed converted a 21 yard field goal attempt and all four extra point attempts and was perfect on the day.
The Steelers only allowed 84 net rushing yards on the day. One of the plays went for a 20 yard touchdown as Rudi Johnson broke several tackles, and he also gained 18 yards on another play. Those two plays aside, the Steelers were able to stifle the Bengals’ running game. Haggans had to leave the game when he was injured in the second half, but he was able to return.
The pass defense gave up a 66 yard gain on the Bengals’ second play from scrimmage, but spent the rest of the day facing Jon Kitna after Carson Palmer was injured on the play. The defense stepped up, registering three sacks. Porter and Polamalu split the first sack, Foote and Haggans split the second and Chris Hoke had the third. Polamalu and Farrior each had an interception in the game as Kitna struggled to match his performance of the first half.
|QB Jon Kitna, Pass: 24 - 40 - 197 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 4 - 25 - 0|
Kitna entered the game for the Bengals after Carson Palmer was injured on the Bengals’ second offensive play. He looked focused and ready to play in the first half. He overthrew Houshmandzadeh in the end zone on the Bengals’ opening drive and they had to settle for a field goal, but he was sharper on the second drive and had three receptions of over 10 yards while leading the Bengals to their opening touchdown and his first of the season. He almost found Chad Johnson on a 47 yard pass, but the ball hit Johnson in the chest and fell incomplete after being deflected by Ike Taylor. He went back to Chad Johnson on the very next play, hitting him for a 24 yard gain. Kitna was almost intercepted by Polamalu on the drive, but rounded it off with a seven yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Kitna struggled in the second half and continually had to scramble as his receivers appeared to be covered a lot better; fumbling and then recovering on one scramble. He almost found Houshmandzadeh for a second touchdown, but the ball was dropped at the goal line and the defender looked to have got away with interference. As the Bengals grew desperate, Kitna was picked off by Polamalu and Farrior as he tried to make something happen. Kitna scrambled for a total of 25 yards on four runs, and perhaps unwisely tried to break tackles rather than slide.
Palmer threw a 66 yard completion on the Bengals’ second offensive play of the game, but he was hit on the knee during the play by Kimo Von Oelhoffen. He was down on the field for several minutes before being carted off. Later reports indicated that he had an MRI which revealed that he tore an ACL in his left knee. There were also reports that his MCL was torn in addition to his ACL. There is extra cause for concern as it is the same knee that he injured in Week 13 last season. He is scheduled to undergo surgery and the team claims he should be ready for training camp in July.
|RB Rudi Johnson, Rush: 13 - 56 - 1, Rec: 2 - 14 - 0 (2 targets)|
Rudi Johnson had an 11 yard reception on the Bengals’ second drive of the game and capped the drive with a 20 yard touchdown run. He broke several weak tackles on the play. Johnson had an 18 yard run on the Bengals’ opening drive of the second half, but was held in check aside from those two big plays. He ended the day with 56 yards rushing and a touchdown on 13 carries, and 14 yards receiving.
|RB Chris Perry, Rush: 2 - 3 - 0, Rec: 6 - 11 - 0 (8 targets)|
Perry only saw two carries in the game, gaining a total of three yards. He was targeted eight times in the passing game but was held to 11 yards on six receptions.
Walter saw more action than normal with Kelley Washington inactive and Chris Henry out after the opening drive. He ended the day with five catches for a total of 73 yards, and was the Bengals’ leading receiver. His first contribution was a 14 yard catch for a first down on the Bengals’ second possession. He followed that with a 15 yard catch on second and eight to keep alive a drive that led to a Rudi Johnson touchdown. Kitna threw up a 35 yard pass on third and 17 for Walter to chase, but it was almost intercepted. Walter was again the target on the opening drive of the second half, when he caught a 15 yard pass on third and six. He converted another first down late in the game when he brought in a 24 yard catch, but the drive ended in an interception.
Johnson was only targeted six times in the game. The first came on the Bengals’ third possession when Kitna looked for him in the end zone. The ball went through the arms of Ike Taylor and hit Johnson in the chest, but he was unable to make what would have been a 47 yard touchdown catch. He caught a 24 yard pass on the very next play and did well to get his feet in under pressure from the defender. He gained 25 yards on second and six but the play was challenged by the Steelers and ruled incomplete. Johnson was the target on third and ten on the opening possession of the second half when he made a 21 yard reception to keep the drive alive. His final catch was for another first down when he just made enough yardage on third and eight.
Houshmandzadeh was Kitna’s favorite target in the game with 11 targets. He was overthrown in the end zone on the Bengals’ opening drive, and then dropped a pass before Kitna found him in the end zone for a seven yard touchdown. He later dropped a pass at the goal line and it looked like possible interference, but he didn’t get the call. He was the intended target when Kitna was intercepted by Farrior in the second half. Houshmandzadeh took the trash talking to another level after the Bengals beat the Steelers in their last game and Houshmandzadeh made a big deal of shining his shoes with a “Terrible Towel”. The Steelers seemed intent on getting in his face early and he seemed visibly agitated with the aggressive play from the Steelers.
Henry was the recipient of Palmer’s only pass, gaining 66 yards to put the Bengals in scoring range. Unfortunately, he fell to the ground untouched a few plays later and had to leave the game permanently with a knee injury.
Schobel was targeted twice near the end of the game, making both catches for a total of 11 yards and one first down.
Kelly was targeted once in the game, making the catch for a four yard gain.
Graham made his opening kick, converting from 23 yards for his 15th consecutive successful field goal. The Bengals attempted a 33 yard field goal on their opening drive of the second half, but the snap was too high and Graham had to abort the attempt. He recovered the fumble. Graham made both his extra point attempts.
The Bengals clearly set out to stop Parker and the running game, and they had a lot of early success. Parker was held to 38 yards on 16 attempts, but Jerome Bettis came in and was more effective. The Bengals allowed Bettis to score from five yards out, and he also broke a 25 run later in the game. The defense allowed two big plays to Verron Haynes near the end of the game when it was clear that they were going to be eliminated.
The Steelers did not rely on the pass and only threw 19 passes in the entire game. The defense gave up two huge plays of 54 yards and 43 yards to Cedrick Wilson, the latter going for a touchdown when the defense was caught out on a trick play. Roethlisberger also completed touchdown passes to Hines Ward and Willie Parker, and he gained almost 11 yards per passing attempt on the day. David Pollack registered the Bengals’ only sack, and the defense was unable to generate any turnovers in the game.