Cincinnati – No matter how high the stakes, how big the deficit or how late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger and his tough-to-catch playmakers always find a way to leave the Bengals wondering what just happened.
Chris Boswell kicked a field goal on the final play shortly after Antonio Brown caught a 6-yard touchdown pass — taking a hit to the head while landing in the end zone — and the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off another improbable comeback against the stunned Bengals, rallying for a 23-20 victory Monday night.
Down 17-0 early, the Steelers (10-2) extended their best start since 2004 in a physical game with a couple frightening injuries. Brown’s touchdown tied it at 20 with 3:51 to go — safety George Iloka was penalized for hitting him in the head after the catch. Boswell won it with 38-yard field goal, his second straight winner in the closing seconds.
Both teams know the script.
“It sort of reminded me of the playoff game — what was it, two years ago?” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It’s sort of the best reality TV show out there — better than the Kardashians.”
Two years ago, the Steelers came to Paul Brown Stadium and pulled out an improbable 18-16 playoff win set up by Cincinnati’s fumble and personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Boswell won that one with a 35-yard kick with 14 seconds left.
Desperate for a win to salvage their playoff hopes, the Bengals (5-7) still couldn’t find a way to beat their Ohio River rival, not even after getting off to the big early lead. They’ve dropped six straight and nine of 10 against Pittsburgh.
“Very disappointing,” said Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who had two touchdown catches in the first half. “We had it.”
Nope. They never do, not against the Steelers.
“We’ve got a no-blink group,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve been in this situation before, and in this stadium before.”
The hard-hitting game was full of personal fouls, penalties and injuries that could have a long-term effect, especially for the AFC North leaders.
Pittsburgh lost leading tackler Ryan Shazier to a back injury in the first quarter. The linebacker was taken off the field on a cart and taken to a hospital for evaluation. Tomlin had no details about his injury or his prognosis after the game. ESPN reported that Tomlin went to the hospital after the game to check on Shazier.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was carted off in the fourth quarter after JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled him with a high hit, then taunted him by walking over him. There were 11 personal fouls in another acrimonious rematch in their hard-edged series. The Bengals self-destructed with 13 penalties for a team-record 173 yards.
The Steelers remain tied with New England for best record in the conference. They host the Patriots on Dec. 17.
Bottled up by Cincinnati’s aggressive defense in the first half, Pittsburgh’s playmakers made the difference down the stretch, just as they have all season. They rallied to beat the Packers 31-28 last Sunday on Boswell’s 53-yard field goal on the final play, which was set up by Brown’s incredible sideline catch.
After missing practice last week with an injured toe, Brown ran gingerly in pregame warmups and had another big game, finishing with 101 yards in eight catches.
Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) ran for 76 yards and had another 106 yards on five catches, including a 35-yard touchdown play in which he remarkably kept his balance along the sideline — cornerback William Jackson pulled up, thinking there was no way he could stay inbound.
It’s the first time that Bell and Brown each had 100 yards receiving in the same game. Ben Roethlisberger was 24 of 40 for 290 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
McAdoo, Reese fired by Giants
The Giants made a rare in-season house cleaning, firing coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese on Monday, less than a year after the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Giants co-owner John Mara confirmed the moves at a hastily called news conference, saying no one incident led to the changes but something had to be done with the team mired with a 2-10 record in a season where they expected to compete for a Super Bowl.
“This has been the perfect storm this season,” Mara said, who said he informed Reese and McAdoo of the decisions on Monday morning. “Everything that could have gone wrong this season has gone wrong.”
The dismissals came a day after the Giants lost in Oakland, with quarterback Eli Manning benched and the offensively inept team performing badly again. The firings cap an injury-marred season highlighted by the loss of catalyst wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on Oct. 8.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as interim coach for the final four games. He coached the Rams from 2009-11.
Mara did not know whether Manning will return as the starter this weekend against Dallas, saying the decision will be made by Spagnuolo.
Assistant general manager Kevin Abrams will take over on an interim basis for Reese.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his left Achilles tendon against the Lions, was facing a four-game suspension after he was found in violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Smith and the Ravens learned of the pending suspension last week, according to multiple sources.
... Bills quarterback Tyrod Tylor has a bruised patellar tendon in his left knee, leaving his status uncertain for Buffalo’s game against Indianapolis on Sunday.
... Titans defensive lineman DaQuan Jones has a torn bicep muscle and will have season-ending surgery. Coach Mike Mularkey said Jones will be placed on injured reserve.