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Steelers ride big first half past Bengals

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The Cincinnati Bengals continued their road struggles as the Steelers held off the Bengals rally attempt in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, 30-20.

Cincinnati (9-5) finishes its road schedule with a 3-5 record and will finish the season at home for the remaining two games where they are 6-0. They were also unable to pick up a game on second place Baltimore (7-6) who plays on Monday and failed to take advantage of a Patriots loss that would have allowed the Bengals to take over the No.2 seed in the AFC playoff hunt.

The Bengals got off to a disastrous start in the first quarter as they began at their own seven yard line after a Steelers (6-8) punt. Cincinnati could not muster anything and was forced to punt when Kevin Huber fumbled snap and was tackled at the 1-yard line. From there Le'Veon Bell punched it in for a 7-0 Steelers lead.

A special teams mistake gave the Bengals the ball inside the ten yard line for the second time, but this time Huber was able to punt the ball away cleanly. Ben Roethlisberger carved the secondary and eventually waited out the Bengals coverage to find Antonio Brown for a 12-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.

The next drive would be the last for Huber who was forced to punt after another three-and-out. Brown would return the kick for a 67-yard touchdown, but the Bengals would lose Huber who suffered a fractured jaw after a vicious block during the return. Kicker Mike Nugent came on to take over the punting duties.

Huber was not the only injury for the Bengals as both James Harrison (concussion) and Jermaine Gresham (hip) left the game and did not return.

Nugent, who had one other career punt back in 2005, was called upon on the next drive as the Bengals had to punt once again. That drive led to more Pittsburgh points as Shaun Suisham tacked on a 25-yard field goal.

Cincinnati finally had some luck come its way as Brandon Tate returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to set the Bengals up with excellent field position. Andy Dalton picked up a key fourth down in the redzone and two plays later Giovani Bernard went over the top to get the Bengals on the board. Pittsburgh tacked on another Suisham field goal to make it 27-7 at the half.

The first drive of the second half did not go well for either team as Gresham had a 14-yard gain overturned as it was ruled that he fumbled before hitting the ground. Pittsburgh turned the ball over one play later as Adam Jones picked off Roethlisberger at the two-yard line. Cincinnati was unable to do on its next drive, but the Steelers followed with yet another field goal for a 30-7 lead.

Down, but not out, the Bengals marched down the field behind the arm of Dalton who completed 8-of-9 passes on the drive. The final throw came on fourth and goal when Dalton hooked up with Tyler Eifert for a 1-yard touchdown. The Bengals defense responded on the next drive to get the ball back as Wallace Gillberry sacked Roethlisberger to stop the Pittsburgh drive.

Cincinnati marched down the field and were able to get down to the 13-yard line before it was faced a crucial fourth down conversion. Once again Dalton did the job as he found a wide open Marvin Jones in the end zone. The Bengals were forced to go for two, but Dalton had his pass deflected at the line of scrimmage to make it 30-20 with 5:46 to play.

The Bengals had a chance to stop Pittsburgh and get the ball back with five minutes left, but Emmanuel Sanders evaded three Cincinnati defenders to pick up a first down on third and seven. They were able to stop the Steelers on a third and five, to get the ball back with 3:17, but by then the Bengals had spent all their timeouts.

Cincinnati had one last gasp, but A.J. Green could not corral the deep throw on the fourth down throw by Dalton. From there the Steelers would run out the clock to remain mathematically alive in playoff hunt.

The Bengals return to Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 22 when they face the puzzling Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1). Minnesota stunned the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday 48-30 despite not having its two top running backs.

Stat Leaders:

Passing: CIN-Dalton (25-44, 230 yards, 2 TD) PIT-Roethlisberger (20-25, 195 yards, TD, INT)

Rushing: CIN-Bernard (13 carries, 33 yards, TD) PIT-Bell (24 carries, 57 yards, TD)

Receiving: CIN-Green (9 catches, 93 yards) PIT-Brown (5 catches, 66 yards, TD, punt return TD)

Tackles: CIN-Vontaze Burfict (12) PIT-Ike Taylor/Cortez Allen (7)

Turnovers: CIN-1 PIT-1

Sacks: CIN-1 PIT-1

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