Steelers hold on for 24-17 win over Bengals
With the game on the line, rookie Andy Dalton couldn't handle a little old-fashioned Pittsburgh defense.
Pittsburgh (7-3) ended the Bengals' five-game winning streak and got a needed victory. Ben Roethlisberger led long, balanced drives while thousands of Steelers fans waved Terrible Towels in the first sellout crowd of the season at Paul Brown Stadium.
Mendenhall's 9-yard run put the Steelers' up 24-17 late in the third quarter. Cincinnati (6-3) had a couple of late chances behind its impressive young quarterback, who handled most of what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau threw at him.
Dalton had two more touchdown passes, giving him 14 overall - the most by a rookie quarterback in his first nine games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He wasn't sacked even though the Steelers blitzed him every way they could.
Near the end, a Steelers defense that's starting to get healthy and force turnovers finally thwarted him.
Pittsburgh came in with only two interceptions all season. Cornerback William Gay anticipated Dalton's throw and stepped in front of Jerome Simpson for a clinching interception inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line with 2:27 left.
Dalton was 15 of 30 for 170 yards and touchdown passes of 36 yards to fellow rookie A.J. Green and 1 yard to Jermaine Gresham. Green twisted his right knee on his first-quarter catch and was limited the rest of the way, relegated to standing on the sideline for the decisive moments of the fourth quarter.
Once the Steelers stopped their self-destruction, they put it away.
The defending AFC champions needed this one. The Steelers already have been swept by Baltimore, and a loss in Cincinnati would have left them 0-3 in division games - a bad mark in a big tiebreaker.
They got off to another fast start, then held on in a gusty wind that made the goal posts shimmy and passes float.
Roethlisberger was 21 of 33 for 245 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He was sacked five times, matching his season high.
Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery uncovered in the end zone for a 16-yard score that got thousands of Terrible Towels waving. It was the fifth time in the last six games that the Steelers reached the end zone on their opening possession.
Mendenhall ran 2 yards for a 14-0 lead on the Steelers' next possession. At that point, Pittsburgh had a 132-8 advantage in yards.
Dalton got the Bengals back in it by doing what he does best - throw the ball Green's way so he can make a game-changing play. After running away from the pass rush, Dalton threw 36 yards to Green, who went up between safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark to make the catch in the end zone.
Green, the NFL's top rookie receiver, landed awkwardly on his right leg on the play. He lay on the field for a couple of minutes and limped off with a sore right knee, but returned for the next series. He was on the sideline during the second half.
The Steelers helped the Bengals keep it close.
Tight end Heath Miller bobbled a pass directly to cornerback Leon Hall for an interception that set up Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal, cutting it to 14-10. Miller had another bad moment late in the first half, wiping out an apparent touchdown with an interference penalty. Shaun Suisham's 39-yard field goal gave Pittsburgh a 17-10 halftime lead.
Hall, the Bengals' top cornerback, hurt his left Achilles tendon on that drive and didn't return.
Dalton pulled the Bengals even with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gresham on their first drive of the second half. Pittsburgh then pulled off a tone-setting drive, covering 81 yards in 11 plays. Mendenhall's 9-yard run put the Steelers up 24-17 late in the third quarter.