Sunday, Oct. 15 1:00pm ET
Steelers win punt-fest 15-0

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.

Hines Ward
Pittsburgh's Hines Ward scores on a 77-yard play from quarterback Kent Graham during Sunday's 15-0 victory.
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 five games.

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 exhibition.

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 big plays.

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 game).

Tom Donahoe,'s NFL analyst, was formerly the Steelers' director of football operations.

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 threat.

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 two starts.

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."

Game notes
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.


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