Steelers pass defense rises to challenge

AP Photo/Tom Uhlman

Lawrence Timmons (94) had one of two key interceptions for the Steelers in their win Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense, which had done little in one key statistical category this season, came through at the right time on Sunday afternoon.

The Steelers, who had recorded only two interceptions in their first nine games (tied for fewest in the league with the Dolphins), had a pair in the fourth quarter to thwart a comeback attempt from Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. That snapped the Bengals five-game winning streak.

One of the keys to the win was that Dalton completed only 12-of-24 passes on throws that went under 15 yards in the air, and his miscues included both interceptions. The Steelers entered the day having allowed opponents to complete 64 percent of such throws this season.

Dalton did complete one such throw for a score, a 36-yarder to A.J. Green, but Green , the NFL’s leading rookie receiver, was injured on the play and left shortly afterwards. After that, Dalton slumped, completing just one of his next six passes that went at least 11 yards in the air.

There was one statistical positive for Dalton, whose touchdown throw gave him 14 for the season. That’s the most for a rookie in the first nine games of the season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

Highlights for the Steelers offense included Rashard Mendenhall’s first game this season with multiple rushing touchdowns. Both scores came in situations in which the Bengals had at least eight defenders in the box, matching the number of touchdowns Mendenhall had on 24 such runs facing that defensive look this season.

The win made Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 7-1 for his career in games played in Cincinnati. It also made Mike Tomlin the fourth coach in Steelers history to win 50 regular-season games, joining Chuck Noll (193), Bill Cowher (149) and Buddy Parker (51).

Elsewhere in the early-afternoon games:

Highest Completion Pct In Game
25+ Attempts, 3 Or More TD

Tony Romo set a Dallas Cowboys record by completing 88.5 percent of his passes (23-for-26). The Cowboys scored their most points since they beat the New York Giants, 45-35 in the season opener in 2007.

DeMarco Murray has now rushed for at least 130 yards in 3 of his last 4 games. His 3 games with at least 130 Rush yards ties Julius Jones for the most by a rookie in Cowboys history.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had 322 passing yards vs the Falcons, his 51st career 300-yard passing game. That's tied with Dan Fouts for the 5th-most in NFL history. Brees’ 37 straight games with a touchdown is the second-longest streak in NFL history, 10 shy of the mark set by Johnny Unitas from 1956 to 1960.

• On the other end of the quarterbacking spectrum, the Denver Broncos won despite Tim Tebow completing only two passes. The only team in the last 25 years to win a game with two or fewer pass completions AND have only one quarterback attempt a pass was the 2009 Browns in Week 5 at the Bills (Derek Anderson: 2-for-17, but won game 6-3).