Bengals storm back, then fall apart on final drive

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers still don't know how
to play with a huge lead. Good thing for them they were playing the
Cincinnati Bengals.

Question on the Bengals: Is Chad Johnson developing into a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout?
Before you become a Pro Bowl receiver, you need to establish yourself as a consistently productive go-to guy on your team. Johnson is an up-and-coming receiver, but not in the Pro Bowl category yet. Stay tuned, though.

Question on the Steelers: Is their defense playing well enough to be a serious threat in the playoffs?
The Steelers' linebackers are playing extremely well, which masks some of their deficiencies on the defensive line. They've also struggled covering receivers man-to-man downfield. When you play four quarters in the playoffs against a quality opponent, your weaknesses will show. I think the Steelers will make the playoffs, but I think their defensive liabilities will hurt them once they get there.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

The Steelers frittered away a 17-point lead for the second
straight home game, only to rally for a 29-21 victory Sunday after
the bumbling Bengals fumbled away a punt and a late lead.

The Bengals (1-10) led 21-20 until T.J. Houshmandzadeh's fumbled
punt with 6{ minutes led to rookie Jeff Reed's third field goal in
his first NFL game. Jerome Bettis followed with his second
touchdown on a 79-yard rushing day that moved him past O.J. Simpson
into 11th place in NFL career rushing.

But when Reed missed the extra point, the Bengals still had a
chance to force overtime. They drove to a first down at the
Steelers 5 in the final minute before Jon Kitna threw four straight
incompletions, with Chad Scott knocking away a pass intended for
Chad Johnson on fourth down.

"I think we just got fed up,'' Steelers safety Brent Alexander
said. "We all said to each other, 'Don't be the guy (to give up
the touchdown).' ''

In a similar situation last week, Corey Dillon twice couldn't
get into the end zone from the 1 in the final minute of a 27-20
Bengals loss to Cleveland.

"I say it over and over, but it's true,'' Johnson said. "It's
just a play here and a play there. We don't make a play and it
kills us.''

Kordell Stewart replaced the injured Tommy Maddox to go 22-of-26
for 236 yards, but the Steelers stalled for more than two quarters
after surging to a 17-0 lead.

"I was like a kid playing in a sand box,'' Stewart said, and
not just because the sandy Heinz Field turf was in terrible shape.
"I was excited just to have an opportunity again.''

Especially since Maddox, who made a quick recovery from the
scary injury in Tennessee last week that left him temporarily
paralyzed, might return Sunday against Jacksonville. Coach Bill
Cowher will decide after Maddox sees his doctor early this week.

With the Steelers' offense coming out conservatively in
Stewart's first start since Sept. 29, Hines Ward ran for 39 yards
on a reverse, leading to Bettis' 1-yard scoring run. On the
Steelers' second possession, Ward bounced off defensive back Kevin
Kaesviharm on a 64-yard scoring pass play, his 11th touchdown of
the season.

Reed, the former North Carolina kicker who won a four-man tryout
last week to replace the injured Todd Peterson, made it 17-0 early
in the second quarter with a 33-yarder on his first NFL attempt,
drawing huge cheers.

"I was nervous at the start, but then I got that out of the
way,'' said Reed, who signed after Peterson missed four of six
attempts the last two weeks.

Just as in their 34-all tie with Atlanta two weeks ago, a
17-point lead wasn't nearly enough for the Steelers (6-4-1).

Kitna, who passed for a career-high 411 yards in a 26-23 upset
of Pittsburgh last December, suddenly began finding big gaps in the
Steelers' secondary. He directed touchdown drives of 75 and 98
yards, finished off each time by Dillon runs. Kitna hit Peter
Warrick for 36 yards and Chad Johnson for 19 on the first drive,
and Johnson for 55 over the middle and 19 yards on the second

Suddenly it was 17-14, a lead that held up until Reed hit from
43 yards midway through the third period. Reed was 3-of-4 in his
Pittsburgh debut, missing only a 51-yarder and the extra point.

But after Stewart was stacked up for no gain on fourth-and-1
early in the fourth quarter, Kitna threw a 21-yard scoring pass to
rookie tight end Matt Schobel with 8:35 remaining that put
Cincinnati up 21-20. The key play on the drive was Kitna's 21-yard
completion to Johnson on third-and-10.

"We were really in control of the game,'' Bengals coach Dick
LeBeau said. "We had a one-point lead and in pretty good shape to
win the game -- and we didn't win it.''

About then, the Bengals probably wished they hadn't passed up
two potential 46-yard field-goal chances by Neil Rackers because of
the treacherous turf. Players slid and slipped all day on the
threadbare grass, which got chewed up Friday when four high school
football playoff games were played on a snowy day.

Game notes
About an hour after the game, crews began digging up the
grass, which will be replaced for Saturday's West Virginia-Pitt
game. This is the third time this year the grass has been replaced.
... Ward, who had his third straight 100-yard game, is the first
Steelers receiver with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Roy
Jefferson (1968-69). ... Bengals kick returner Brandon Bennett
hyperextended his right knee on a 52-yard return to start the
second half and didn't return. ... Steelers RG Kendall Simmons
(right knee) also left in the second half.