Neil O'Donnell caught his old team napping.
Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock and set up a field goal in the final seconds, O'Donnell saw the Pittsburgh Steelers lagging and threw deep.
"It's been a long week," said O'Donnell, who hadn't faced the Steelers since leaving them after the 1995 season. "There were a lot of things that were brought up -- my leaving Pittsburgh -- everybody wanted to talk about that. I just tried to stay focused. Those Steelers always seem to find a way to win."
He and Carl Pickens snatched one away from them at the end Sunday.
After Pittsburgh (3-2) went ahead 20-18 on Norm Johnson's 40-yard field goal with 1:56 to play, the Bengals (2-3) appeared to be headed for another October flameout. They were only 2-24 in the month since 1991.
A holding penalty on the kickoff left Cincinnati at its 7-yard line with 1:52 to play, no timeouts and thousands of Steelers fans chanting "Defense."
"You would think with 2 minutes left and them with no timeouts left, we'd be in good shape," cornerback Dewayne Washington said.
On fourth-and12 from the 15-yard line, O'Donnell threw a 50-yard pass to Pickens, who snatched it away from a turned-around Washington.
Just like that, the Bengals had a chance.
"He just ran a streak route," Washington said. "I probably should have backed up more on that. He just went up and made a great catch."
| Neil O'Donnell torched his former team for 298 yards and three touchdown passes. (AP) |
After Corey Dillon's run kept the clock moving with Cincinnati in field goal position, O'Donnell made the signal to spike the ball. The Steelers saw it and took their time lining up, figuring there would be nothing to contest.
Wrong. O'Donnell saw what was happening and looked at Pickens, who was thinking the same thing.
"Believe it or not, we made that up right there on the spot," Pickens said. "He faked (the spike) and when I saw that he didn't throw it, I just took off."
The defender? Washington, who was the prime target on Pickens' career day. He had a team-record 13 catches for 204 yards, the third-highest yardage total in club history.
"They just threw it up," Washington said. "That's the nature of the position. For most of the game I was covering Pickens one-on-one. I didn't come up with the play at the end."
O'Donnell finished 20-for-26 for 298 yards with three touchdown passes -- 44 and 30 yards to Darnay Scott -- and the game-winner to Pickens on the impromptu play that gave Cincinnati only its third victory in its last 15 games against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers did a major line shuffle because of injuries. Justin Strzelczyk moved from right tackle to left, Alan Faneca started at left guard for the first time and Jamain Stephens made only his second pro start at right tackle.
They suffered another blow when Jerome Bettis twisted his left knee late in the second half and spent the rest of the game on the sidelines, though coach Bill Cowher said he could have returned.
But Pittsburgh was in position to win it at the end -- until the pass coverage crumbled -- because Kordell Stewart turned back into the multidimensional "Slash" and put some sizzle back into the league's 28th-ranked offense.
Stewart rushed for 103 yards, the most by an NFL quarterback since he topped 100 in 1996, and passed for 151 more, completing 13 of 22 for 151 yards.
"I did a lot of things today -- I completed a few passes, I scrambled, I looked like my old self. I was pretty excited," Stewart said.
Richard Huntley took over for Bettis and fumbled away a scoring chance on his first carry. He settled down while The Bus watched from the sidelie in the second half.
Huntley carried 20 times for 85 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown in the second half that put the Steelers ahead 17-9. He also had the bulk of the carries in the drive to Johnson's go-ahead field goal.
Then, the defense got caught napping.
"We certainly didn't keep our poise at the end of the game," Cowher said.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved