Bengals Chew Up Steelers


The Cincinnati Bengals are the NFL's team of the decade its worst team. Think how bad they would be without the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodney Heath made two first-half interceptions, one for a touchdown and the other setting up a score, and the Bengals nearly blew a big lead again before holding off the reeling Steelers 27-20 Sunday.

The Bengals (2-10) have won only three of their last 23, and need one more loss for the most losses (107) by any NFL team in a decade. But they beat the Steelers for the third time in two seasons, two of them in Three Rivers Stadium.

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Game Summary

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  • "The buzzard flew away today, and we had lady luck on our side," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who recovered a fumble for one of Pittsburgh's three first-half turnovers.

    The Bengals, who squandered a 14-point margin last week in losing to Baltimore 34-31, opened a 24-3 lead behind the turnovers, Jeff Blake's passing and Corey Dillon's 120 yards rushing, then held off a comeback led by backup quarterback Mike Tomczak.

    Tomczak, in his first extensive playing time since 1996, was 19-of-35 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. But the Steelers (5-6) still lost to a one-win team at home for the second time in three weeks. Cleveland upset them 16-15 on Nov. 14.

    The Steelers have lost three in a row overall and are only 1-4 at Three Rivers Stadium, where they were 45-9 under coach Bill Cowher before losing six of their last seven.

    Afterward, Cowher denied he wants to get out of the remaining three years on his contract and coach elsewhere, calling such speculation "ludicrous." There will be one big change: Tomczak will start Thursday at Jackonville and Stewart will temporarily return to wide receiver, where he played part-time before moving fulltime to quarterback in 1997.

    "I guess Slash is back," said Stewart, who has only six touchdown passes in his last 15 starts. "I'm not sad, I'm not pouting, but I have no doubts at all that I will be the quarterback again. It's just not working right now."

    Cowher said, "I think it will be good for Kordell to sit back right now and look. There is a great deal of pressure being placed upon him, and Mike Tomczak gave us a real spark."

    Tomczak, who replaced Stewart after Heath's two interceptions, threw touchdown passes of 15 yards to Bobby Shaw and 34 to Hines Ward to make it 24-20 early in the third quarter. The Steelers previously had only three touchdowns in four home games, all following turnovers.

    But the Steelers never caught up. Kris Brown's 46-yard field goal was wiped out by a holding penalty, forcing a punt, and they twice failed to convert on fourth-and-short in the fourth quarter.

    Pittsburgh drove to the Bengals 26 in the final minute, but Heath broke up a fourth-and-6 pass and the Bengals ran out the clock.

    "Maybe we found a cure," Bengals defensive end Michael Bankston said. "We played well on offense and defense, we got turnovers, we got sacks, we got touchdowns and Corey was running wild."

    Blake hit his first three passes for 134 yards against the NFL's top-rated passing defense, including a 76-yard touchdown to Darnay Scott on the game's third play as the Steelers bit on Blake's play-action fake.

    "We had nothing to lose, just drop back and let it go," said Blake, who was 15-of-28 for 241 yards and one interception.

    Stewart, 5-of-11 for 36 yards, was intercepted by Heath on Pittsburgh's first possession. Blake promptly hit Carl Pickens for 34 yards and Scott for 24 to set up his own 4-yard touchdown scramble that made it 14-0 with 8:04 left in the first quarter.

    That brought on the booing that has led Stewart to label himself as "Pittsburgh's public enemy No. 1." It got worse when Stewart threw a pass directly to Heath, who returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. Heath, a free agent rookie, started in place of Ty Howard.

    Doug Pelfrey added a pair of 29-yard field goals, one after Spikes' fumble recovery, but missed a 25-yarder with 5:51 let that would have pushed the lead to 10.

    Scott made four catches for 123 yards as the Bengals, the NFL's 19th-ranked passing offense, outgained Pittsburgh 415-391.

    Notes

  • Blake has 12 career TD passes against Pittsburgh.
  • Scott has four touchdown catches in his last three starts against the Steelers.
  • The Steelers had never before lost at home to a division opponent in consecutive seasons under Cowher.
  • Until Sunday, the Steelers' only three touchdown drives at home covered 16, 11 and 8 yards, all following turnovers.
  • Steelers C Dermontti Dawson (strained hamstring) missed his fifth consecutive game.
  • The Bengals' secondary had only six interceptions before intercepting Stewart twice.

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