Plays that shaped Steelers' season: No. 4

No. 4

The play: Antonio Brown returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter against the Bengals on Dec. 15.

The situation: The Steelers had already taken advantage of a Bengals’ special-teams gaffe for a touchdown when Brown broke the kind of return that had just eluded him several times earlier in the season. Brown took a hard step to the left before racing right up the middle on the way to his second career punt return for a touchdown against the Bengals. Terence Garvin punctuated the play by leveling Kevin Huber with a block that left the Bengals punter with a broken jaw and ended his season. The return staked the Steelers to a 21-0 lead and they never looked back.

Why it mattered: The Steelers backed up their collective vow that they wouldn’t mail in the rest of the season even with the playoffs seemingly out of their reach at 5-8. The Bengals, jockeying for playoff positioning, had everything to play for on a cold night with plenty of empty seats at Heinz Field. But it was the Steelers who seized control of the game early by playing the more inspired ball of the two AFC North rivals. They cruised to a 30-20 victory and won their next two games to finish 8-8 and just outside of the AFC playoffs.