Pittsburgh had taken late lead


PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Cincinnati Bengals aren't supposed to win
like this. Not against this team or against these odds. Not at this
time of the season or in so big a game.

Question on the Bengals: Is today's comeback even bigger than the win over Kansas City?
This win is bigger for two reasons. One, they get to stay in first place for another week, which is a huge confidence boost for a young team. Second, these victories validate everything the Bengals' coaching staff has told them since preseason about working hard. Because every one of these victories is the result of the hard work the Bengals are doing week in and week out.

Question on the Steelers: Aside from WR and LB, will there be a lot of turnover in the offseason?
There will be some and it should start with their quarterback, offensive line and running backs. The Steelers have been a disappointment this season because of the poor play coming from those positions. Coming into the season, the QB position was supposed to be a strength, but it hasn't been. Tommy Maddox has played badly at times and it's partially the fault of his faltering offensive line and non-existent running game. The Steelers seem to have doomed themselves by de-emphasizing the running game early in the season and now are stuck with the consequences of their decision.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Somehow they did, and the franchise that could barely win a game
of any kind for 12 seasons now has the kind of season-defining
victory that can lead to championships.

Jon Kitna's third touchdown pass, an 18-yarder in the rear of
the end zone to Matt Schobel with 13 seconds left, finished a
last-minute drive that carried the Bengals past the rival
Pittsburgh Steelers 24-20 Sunday.

The Bengals (7-5) not only won their fourth in a row and sixth
in seven games to set up a first-place showdown next week in
Baltimore, they all but eliminated the Steelers (4-8). Pittsburgh
won six of the last nine titles in the AFC North or Central. The
Steelers are one loss away from their third losing season in the
last five.

"In years past, we didn't win the tough games," running back
Corey Dillon said. "Now we're winning them. As long as I've been
here, December was just December, it doesn't mean too much. This is

Tommy Maddox, 28-of-42 for 313 yards, gave Pittsburgh its first
lead at 20-17 with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:05
remaining. The Steelers rallied from a 14-3 deficit behind Jerome
Bettis' 1-yard touchdown run on a 75-play drive and Jeff Reed's
39-yard field goal.

But after Reed's short kickoff into a strong wind and Brandon
Bennett's 27-yard return gave Cincinnati the ball at its 48, Kitna
-- who has 18 touchdown passes and only one interception in
Cincinnati's seven victories -- got the Bengals in the end zone in
four plays.

Asked the Bengals' mindset with half the field to cover in
barely a minute, coach Marvin Lewis said, "Let's go win the

Darned if they didn't. Kitna hit Peter Warrick for 18 yards and
Bennett ran 16 yards. After an incompletion, Kitna found Schobel
for the Bengals' biggest touchdown since they last won a division
in 1990.

Back then, the Bengals used an early December 16-12 win in
Pittsburgh as a springboard to that title.

"I said the division had to go through Pittsburgh," said Ward,
who made 13 catches for 149 yards. "They came into Pittsburgh and
stole a big victory."

Lewis intends to do the same thing next week in Baltimore, even
if he wouldn't guarantee it like Chad Johnson did before the
Bengals upset Kansas City.

"We're going to win three in a row on the road," said Lewis,
whose team was coming off a victory at San Diego. "That's not a
prediction, that's our goal."

Kitna was 18-of-32 for 271 yards and three touchdowns, including
first-half scores of 51 yards to Kelley Washington and 4 to Chad
Johnson, who made six catches for 117 yards. Cornerback Chad Scott
was in coverage on both plays.

"This was a reflection of our season: up and down, up and down,
and then at the end, a letdown," Bettis said. "It's tough to deal

Until the decisive final drive, the Bengals were scoreless in
the second half except for Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal that
made it 17-13.

The Steelers were in position to score just before the end of
the first half, but backup quarterback Charlie Batch fumbled on
second-and-goal from the 10.

Batch, playing only because Maddox left for three plays with a
left leg injury, was attempting to throw a screen pass. The ball
slipped out of his hand and Cincinnati's John Thornton fell on it.
Referee Bernie Kukar ruled Batch's arm was not going forward --
making it a lateral that could be recovered, not a pass.

The Bengals immediately ran a kneel-down play to end the half,
causing coach Bill Cowher to confront Kukar and ask why the play
wasn't reviewed. Cowher couldn't challenge the call because less
than two minutes remained in the half.

"You would think they would at least look at the play," Cowher

Told the replay official was Dale Hamer, formerly the head
linesman on Kukar's crew, Cowher said, "I guess that's why he's
^Notes:@ Bettis' 62 yards rushing gave him 12,010 in his career. He
needs 65 yards to overtake Thurman Thomas for ninth place. ... Ward
(13 catches for 149 yards) had X-rays on his back and ribs, but
doesn't think he was seriously hurt. ... The Bengals' four-game
winning streak is their first in a season since 1989. They also won
three at the end of the 1996 season and their 1997 opener. ... The
Steelers had won nine of their last 10 division games and had won
17 of 23 from Cincinnati since 1992.


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