Down to a last chance, Andy Dalton showed why these Bengals are the best ever through seven games.
Dalton passed for Cincinnati’s only touchdown with 2:57 to go, and the Bengals picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice in the fourth quarter while rallying for a 16-10 victory over the Steelers on Sunday that gave them the best start in franchise history.
They’re 7-0 and in command of the AFC North heading into the midpoint of the season.
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"We’re playing for something greater than being 7-0," said A.J. Green, whose TD catch was part of another big game against Pittsburgh. "We’re trying to win a championship. We feel a game like this helps us build resiliency going into the postseason."
With this team, it will always come down to the postseason. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history. The Bengals have lost in the first round each of the past four years.
The playoffs are still far away, but this Bengals team is doing things like no other.
"I don’t even know how to explain it," said Shawn Williams, whose interception set up the winning touchdown. "When there’s a special moment in the game and a play has to be made, they made the play."
The defending AFC North champion Steelers (4-4) hoped that Roethlisberger’s return after missing four games with a sprained knee would kick-start them. After leading most of the game, they fall apart in the closing minutes.
Williams’ diving sideline interception at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line set up Dalton’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Green, who had 11 catches for 118 yards. After being kept out of the end zone all game, Dalton was waiting for one last chance.
"I knew eventually were were going to score a touchdown, and we did," said Dalton, who was 23 of 38 for 231 yards with two interceptions and three sacks.
Reggie Nelson’s second interception set up Mike Nugent’s 44-yard field goal with 1:47 to go. The Steelers drove to the Cincinnati 16-yard line with 4 seconds left, but Roethlisberger’s pass went out of the end zone to finish it.
Roethlisberger was 28 of 45 for 262 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and three sacks.
In addition to falling to .500, the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell indefinitely to a knee injury. Bell twisted his right knee beneath him as he was tackled in the second quarter and had to be carted off the field. Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that Bell was being evaluated.
The Bengals ended a three-game losing streak to the Steelers, getting only their second victory in their past six visits to Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger ran out for introductions in a Steelers baseball cap with both arms raised as the crowd gave him the loudest ovation. And it didn’t take long to remind them of what they’d missed.
Roethlisberger completed four of five passes during an opening 80-yard touchdown drive. His 1-yard toss to Antonio Brown capped a 7-minute, 14-second possession — the kind of drive Pittsburgh had trouble pulling off in his absence.
The Steelers managed only one field goal the rest of the way.
The Bengals wasted several scoring chances in the second half as Pittsburgh’s defense tried to hold on.
Cameron Heyward blocked Nugent’s 42-yard field goal try late in the third quarter, and the defense picked off Dalton twice in the fourth quarter. After Cincinnati got a first-and-goal at the 5 early in the fourth quarter, Antwon Blake intercepted Dalton’s third-down pass in the end zone and returned it 42 yards.
Dalton came into the game leading the NFL in passer rating and fourth-quarter rating. He managed to pull off the short TD drive that decided it, making a 23-yard shovel pass to Giovani Bernard while scrambling on a third-down play to set up the score.
Notes:Dalton’s 23rd career win on the road matched Dan Marino, Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for most by a quarterback in his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era. … Roethlisberger became the fifth active quarterback to throw for 40,000 yards, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. … Bengals middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict played for the first time after missing the first six games while recovering from offseason knee surgery. He had five tackles and got more playing time after LB Rey Maualuga had a calf injury in the first quarter.