PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense played worse,
and their record got better. The Cincinnati Bengals keep thinking
they can't get any worse, and yet they do.
Kent Graham, starting even after Kordell Stewart led the
Steelers to two road victories, hit Hines Ward with a 77-yard
touchdown pass on the Steelers' second play, but that was about the
only offense in a punt-filled 15-0 Pittsburgh win Sunday.
In a game that featured 22 punts, but only 27 pass completions,
Josh Miller set a Steelers record with 12 punts. The Bengals even
used their punter, Daniel Pope, to run on a fake field goal, but
the second-quarter play lost 5 yards, and they never threatened
again while crossing midfield only twice.
The Bengals (0-6) don't have a second-half touchdown, and now
they're not scoring in the first half, either. They have scored 37
points in six games and have been outscored 65-3 in the second
half. Their three shutout losses already are a team record, with 10
games still remaining.
"We have to look forward, because what's the point of looking
back," Bengals defensive lineman Oliver Gibson said. "Every game
is a Super Bowl for us right now."
Jerome Bettis, held to 20 yards on eight carries in the first
half, finished with 101 yards on 29 carries as the Steelers (3-3)
won their third in a row since starting 0-3.
"We just had to stay with it (the run), even if we got most of
them late in the game," said Bettis, who has 515 yards in his last
|Pittsburgh's Hines Ward scores on a 77-yard play from quarterback Kent Graham during Sunday's 15-0 victory.|
It won't help the Steelers' running game that fullback Jon
Witman apparently fractured his right ankle and may be lost for the
season. The Steelers have the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense.
"That's a tough loss for me, and a tough loss for the
Steelers," Bettis said. "He's a major part of what we're doing."
The victory was only the Steelers' third in 13 home games and
their first in three years at home against the Bengals, who have
only six victories in their last 36 games.
The Steelers' defense has allowed one touchdown during the
winning streak and three points the last two weeks.
"We got ourselves into a big time hole, but we're getting
ourselves out of it," linebacker Levon Kirkland said. "We're kind
of peeking our heads out of the hole, but if we keep playing like
this, we'll be fine."
With 6:32 to play, the Bengals' offense finally scored _ for the
Steelers. Backup quarterback Scott Mitchell, who had earlier thrown
an interception that led to a Steelers' field goal, was sacked by
Joey Porter for a safety that made it 15-0.
That was the closest the Bengals got to an end zone. Akili
Smith, the NFL's lowest-rated passer, struggled again before being
lifted late in the third quarter after going 10-of-20 for 97 yards
in his ninth straight loss as a starter. Mitchell was 4-of-16 for
39 yards and two interceptions.
The Bengals tried getting the ball more to first-round draft
pick Peter Warrick, and his 46-yard run on a reverse to the
Steelers 23 in the second quarter represented their lone scoring
But after the Bengals gained only 7 yards on the next three
plays, coach Dick LeBeau gambled by calling a fake field goal.
Pope, the holder, tried to run, but ran into cornerback Dewayne
Washington and pitched it to kicker Neil Rackers, who was dragged
down for a 5-yard loss.
"We saw something on video we could take advantage of," said
LeBeau, who is 0-3 since replacing Bruce Coslet. "I thought it was
a good opportunity to get seven (points) instead of three, but it
didn't work out."
Graham, out before with a hip injury, started because Stewart
couldn't get the ball downfield even while going 27-of-42 in his
Graham did that on his first throw, with Ward bouncing off
safety Cory Hall at the 50 before completing the Steelers' longest
scoring pass play in nearly five years. But after starting 6-of-7
for 121 yards, Graham constantly overthrew his receivers while
finishing 13-of-33 for 173 yards.
Hall sustained a concussion on the play and didn't return.
"I got squished between the cornerback (Rodney Heath) and the
safety, and somehow I got out of it," said Ward, who said Graham
checked off from a run to a pass at the line of scrimmage. "I was
dizzy, but I realized I still had the ball."
||TOM DONAHOE'S BREAKDOWN
If you like offensive football, this was not the game for you.
Both offenses were ineffective (aside from a 77-yard TD pass by Steelers quarterback
Kent Graham on their second play from scrimmage). In the second half,
though, the Steelers were able to get their running going with Jerome Bettis (101 yards).
Pittsburgh's inability to convert on third down made it difficult for them
to sustain drives. Pittsburgh punter Josh Miller set a team record
with 12 punts. Add 10 for the Bengals, and it was a pretty good punting
Meanwhile, the Steelers' defense -- which struggled stopping the big play
earlier in the season -- has settled down to play some exceptional football
in recent weeks. For the third week in a row, Pittsburgh did not give up any
Outside linebacker Joey Porter, in his
second-year out of Colorado State, stood out for the Steelers with three
sacks and a safety.
The Steelers have dug themselves out of an early-season hole and certainly
can look forward with anticipation to the rest of the season.
Kordell Stewart came into the
game in a goal-line situation, but the Steelers have committed to Kent
Graham as their quarterback. Whether Stewart could have generated more offense in
this game is a matter of speculation.
The Bengals continue to struggle -- they just can't score points. Cincinnati
has scored only 37 points in six games (an average of slightly over six a
Tom Donahoe, ESPN.com's NFL analyst, was formerly the Steelers' director
of football operations.
The NFL record for punts is 17 by the former Cincinnati
Reds in 1934 against Pittsburgh. On that same day, two NFL games
featured a record 31 punts by both teams, Cincinnati-Pittsburgh and
Chicago-Green Bay. ... The Steelers won at home against an AFC
Central team for the first time in eight games since beating
Jacksonville on Nov. 22, 1998. ... LeBeau said Smith will start
against Denver on Sunday. Likewise, Cowher said Graham will start
against Cleveland. ... The Bengals have been outscored 143-37 and
haven't had a first down on 32 of their last 63 possessions.