Steelers' late-game brilliance breaks Bengals' spirit -- again

CINCINNATI -- Same as it ever was.

Antonio Brown made sure of it with an All-Pro walk-off score.

The Pittsburgh Steelers broke the Cincinnati Bengals' spirit for the sixth straight time in Paul Brown Stadium with their toughest all-around performance of the season.

Brown broke free over the middle for a catch and run between Bengals defenders and an untouched, 31-yard score with 10 seconds left, giving Pittsburgh a 28-21 win. The Bengals brought the house, so the Steelers raided it.

“We had the perfect playcall,” Brown said. “Those guys (were) in a zero coverage. When I came in and motioned down and the corner backed up, I knew we had an opportunity for a catch and run.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster, who said Friday that he wasn’t eager to discuss his vicious hit on Vontaze Burfict last year and just wanted to help the Steelers “get a W,” was a catalyst with three catches on the final drive and the two-point conversion.

The Bengals’ efficient 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-20 lead left the Steelers with 1:18 left and all three timeouts. That was plenty of time for Ben Roethlisberger, who orchestrated his 39th career game-winning drive.

In fact, Roethlisberger told teammates the Bengals left them “too much time,” as several teammates recall. Then, Roethlisberger asked special teams coach Danny Smith where he wanted the ball for a field-goal attempt. The Steelers got eight points instead of three.

“We have a franchise quarterback,” guard Ramon Foster said. “We always have a chance.”

Roethlisberger remembers his big-picture message to the offense before it was time to win the game.

“I told the guys, ‘This is what legacies are made of for all of us. Let’s go take care of business’” he said. “And that’s what makes it fun.”

For much of the game, the Steelers lined up and smacked the Bengals with three-tight-end sets, pulling guards, fullbacks and bruising running back play.

The 28-point outing doesn’t fully illustrate the Steelers’ work up front. James Conner had open lanes to plow through on his way to 5.8 yards per carry. Roethlisberger didn’t take a sack.

And for the sixth time in the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati entered a game against Pittsburgh with the better record and as the betting favorite and lost.

The difference? The Steelers have two all-time greats in Roethlisberger and Brown, teammates say.

“Moments like this, GOATs come alive,” Smith-Schuster said.

The Steelers’ recovery from a disastrous sequence before halftime also made the difference.

The Steelers were up 14-7 with 1:07 in the half and gave up a touchdown 48 seconds later thanks to a short kickoff, Andy Dalton making easy throws to the sideline and Artie Burns’ coverage bust in the end zone on a Tyler Boyd score.

But they responded out of halftime with three-and-outs on back-to-back defensive series and an 85-yard drive capped by Chris Boswell’s 21-yard field goal. Conner delivered forearm blows on his way to 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns, eliciting a “damn James” tweet with a bicep emoji from Le’Veon Bell, who was watching at home.

Conner and Vance McDonald took turns delivering punishment on Burfict & Co., with McDonald trucking Burfict on the sideline in the second quarter.

“He was a bowling ball,” Roethlisberger said of Conner.

Roethlisberger finished with 369 yards and one touchdown on 32-of-46 passing, avoiding mistakes by taking what Cincinnati gave him. That often meant finding McDonald (seven catches, 68 yards) and Smith-Schuster (seven catches, 111 yards). Brown added 105 yards on what was a balanced day for the offense.

Don’t look now, but the Steelers’ oft-maligned defense has allowed a respectable 50 points in their past 10 quarters. In the absence of a turnover, the Steelers lined up and got stops when necessary. Stephon Tuitt’s first sack of the year disrupted a comfortable Bengals drive early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had coverage problems at times – most notably with linebackers lined up on wide receivers early on – but holding the rushing game to 62 yards is progress.

The Steelers vault to 3-2-1, well-positioned in the AFC North race against the 4-2 Bengals and others.

“Our guys wanted to win this game,” Foster said. “The month of September was really bad for us, and we have to find a way to right this ship, because we have three straight divisional games. We’ll see how it goes with the rest of them.”