Monday, September 22, 2003
Steelers 17, Bengals 10
Pittsburgh comes up big in the clutch
By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By his count, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis came up with four or five key plays that meant the difference Sunday between a victory and a 17-10 loss to rival Pittsburgh.
The Bengals dropped to 0-3 for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Only four of 105 teams to start 0-3 since 1978 (excluding strike-shortened 1982) have made the playoffs.
The Bengals are last in the AFC North and will play Sunday at 1-2 Cleveland, upset winner at San Francisco. Only one in 70 teams to start 0-4 (1992 Chargers) made the playoffs. The Bengals are 55-140 since last making the playoffs in 1990 and 4-24 since November 2001.
"Today, we got beat by a team that made more plays than we did," Lewis said. "It's my job to find us a way to make plays to win this football game.
"We're not making plays in the critical situations that it takes to win the game, and that is my responsibility."
The Steelers made the big plays when they counted before a Bengals record home crowd of 64,596, thousands of whom wore Pittsburgh gold and black.
After Jeff Reed missed a 24-yard field goal on the game's first possession, the Bengals drove 63 yards to the Steelers 17. But Jon Kitna's pass for Peter Warrick was tipped by cornerback Chad Scott and intercepted by linebacker Jason Gildon.
"You throw a ball, think you have it, then a corner tips the ball in the air and a guy makes a diving interception," said Kitna, who has thrown five interceptions to three touchdowns.
Playing in the second half without star tailback Corey Dillon - who is day-to-day with a strained left groin - the Bengals would gain just 119 more yards on offense.
The game remained scoreless until the Steelers made two more big plays late in the second quarter.
On fourth-and-3, the Steelers lined up for a 50-yard Reed field-goal attempt. But holder Tommy Maddox, the quarterback who threw for 240 yards and one touchdown and an interception, completed a 23-yard pass to tight end Jerame Tuman to the 9.
"It's something we saw," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "I'm glad we did it, because somebody was going to do it at some point."
Said Lewis: "We didn't execute, that's all. They ran a fake. We didn't cover it."
Reggie Myles made the tackle.
Then, two plays later, from the 7-yard line, Maddox connected with wide receiver Hines Ward at the 1. Bengals safety Mark Roman hit Ward hard. Linebacker Brian Simmons grabbed Ward, but Steelers fullback Dan Kreider ran in and pushed Ward into the end zone for the touchdown.
The Bengals have not led this year.
Lewis could not challenge the call because it was inside the 2-minute warning, and NFL supervisor Ron Baynes said Kreider's play was legal because he pushed the pile. It is not legal to assist an individual player.
"I hit him, and his forward progress is stopped," Roman said. "Then two, three seconds later, they're saying touchdown."
Said Lewis: "Their guys got there and finished the play before our guys. That's not good enough."
Twice in the second quarter, the Bengals moved inside the Steelers 40-yard line. But on fourth-and-2 from the 36, and later fourth-and-3 on the 33, Lewis elected to punt and kept kicker Shayne Graham on the bench instead of trying 54- and 51-yard field goals. Both of Nick Harris' punts sailed into the end zone for touchbacks.
"It was out of our range, and it was into the wind," Lewis said.
Graham is 2-for-2 in his three-year career from 50 yards. The wind was listed at 6 mph Sunday.
In the third quarter, Graham made a 44-yard field goal with plenty to spare at the same end of the field. The score was set up by safety Rogers Beckett's interception. The drive went just 19 yards on five plays.
But Pittsburgh made another big play on its next possession. On fourth-and-1 from the 1, Cowher elected to go for the touchdown. Jerome Bettis ran right into the end zone. It was Bettis' sixth consecutive carry to cover the final 23 yards of the drive.
Bettis, the deposed starter, ran for 59 yards on 16 carries. Starter Amos Zereoue ran for 69 yards on 16 attempts. The Steelers rushed for 138 yards and controlled the clock for 37:06.
After the Bengals had closed to 17-10 on a 5-yard Kitna pass to Peter Warrick, the Steelers ate the final 5:54 with a 58-yard drive. Bettis had 19 yards on the final possession.
"Jerome is a good back," Lewis said. "We have to tackle."
The Steelers converted 8-for-16 third down plays. The Bengals were 3 of 10 on third down.
Still, Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen - a former Bengal - saw a difference in Lewis' team.
"They're getting better," he said. "Give them another year. They're playing hard. They're much more focused. They've got better players."
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