PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, Le’Veon Bell added 192 total yards and Pittsburgh’s defense dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half of a 29-14 victory on Sunday.
The Steelers (5-2) relied on their stars to take the lead and then on their reinvigorated defense to blunt Cincinnati’s and give themselves a significant cushion over the rest of the underwhelming AFC North.
The Bengals (2-4) came in looking to add some street cred to their resurgence after their 0-3 start, but instead spent the second half reverting to the kind of ineffective offense that got Ken Zampese fired two weeks into the season. The Steelers picked off Andy Dalton twice and sacked him three times over the final two quarters to pull away.
Chris Boswell added five field goals for Pittsburgh, which posted its highest points total and appears to be rounding into form as Halloween nears.
Two weeks after openly questioning whether he still “had it,” Roethlisberger put together easily his best half of the season. He hit Antonio Brown for a 7-yard touchdown to cap Pittsburgh’s first drive, found a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 31-yard score in the second quarter and threw a perfectly placed 23-yard deep out to Brown late in the second quarter to spark a drive that ended with a 24-yard Chris Boswell field goal that put the Steelers up 20-14 at the half.
Dalton and Cincinnati appeared ready to keep pace early. He connected with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft with first-half touchdowns, but when the Steelers turned the pressure up, the Bengals crumbled while losing for the eighth time in their last nine meets with their longtime nemesis.
Cincinnati managed just one first down in the second half, much of which Dalton spent on the run or throwing picks. Joe Haden collected his first interception with Pittsburgh when he made a juggling grab that set up Boswell’s field goal. William Gay added one later in the third quarter on an ugly overthrow by Dalton.
Dalton finished 17 of 30 for 144 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Bengals had just 19 yards of total offense in the second half. Given one last desperate shot to get back in it with 5 minutes left trailing by 15, Dalton threw the ball away on fourth down, a microcosm of a forgettable afternoon.
Smith-Schuster celebrated the third touchdown of his young NFL career by playing hide-and-seek in the end zone with Bell. Bell spent much of the game playing hide-and-seek with the Bengals. He ran for 135 yards and added 58 receiving, the highlight coming on a 42-yard sprint in the second quarter in which he stiff-armed Cincinnati’s Dre Kirkpatrick to the ground.
The Steelers improved to 12-0 all-time when Bell has at least 25 carries. Seemingly lost after getting stunned at home by the Jaguars, Pittsburgh has relied on Bell heavily in wins over Kansas City and Cincinnati and finds itself tied for the best record in the AFC near the midway point.
Oft-suspended Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict let his disdain for the Steelers known early. Burfict declined to shake hands when he came out to midfield during the coin toss. Burfict, who was suspended for the first five games of last season for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Brown during a playoff loss to the Steelers in January, 2016, then appeared to kick Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix on the second snap of the game as the two were emerging from a pile.
Bengals: Host struggling Indianapolis next Sunday.
Steelers: Visit Detroit next Sunday night. Pittsburgh has won last four meetings with the Lions.