By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers played about as complete a game as they have this season with all three phases contributing from the outset in a 35-7 thrashing against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The Steelers got two touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace, while Rashard Mendenhall added 60 yards and two scores on 16 carries. Isaac Redman also had 51 yards on eight runs to key the offense.
“I think we did a pretty good job in the running and passing game,” Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert said. “I think Ben got sacked twice, but we kept him pretty clean. And we ran the ball for nearly 140 yards.
“So, we had a pretty good day on the offensive line. Now, we have a quick turnaround for Cleveland, but I know we’ll be ready for it. This is where teams are made at this time of the season, and I know we’re tough enough.”
Wallace had three catches for 38 yards, but two scores. He caught a 12-yard toss in the right side of the end zone when he was wide open, but his second one was a 19-yard score that he had to break at least a half-dozen tackles.
“We kept saying to each other to keep on playing and never let up,” Wallace said. “We didn’t stop. Sometimes, I guess we get a little lackadaisical, but we kept our foot on the pedal. I still feel like we left a lot out there on offense, but we did a good job of not looking back this time.
“My touchdowns, I was wide open on the first one, but the second one … I don’t know. Maybe I broke five, six, seven tackles. I lost count after a while, but they were just bouncing off me. They made it tough, but I wanted to get in there, so I didn’t want to let anybody stop me.”
A key to that overall performance Wallace noted also included special teams plays from Antonio Brown. An accomplished wide receiver with two amazing catches for 67 yards, Brown returned a punt 60 yards for his first touchdown that way. Brown also had a long kickoff return for a score last season.
“Ben did a good job stepping up, and I stayed patient coming across for that one reception,” Brown said.
“Once I got into the middle, there was open ground from there. … On the punt return, Bryant McFadden did a great job helping me get to the edge, and after that it was just me and the punter. And he wasn’t going to stop me.”
The Steelers also clearly made an effort to get Hines Ward some catches. He needed to average three per game over the final five to reach 1,000 career receptions, and is much closer with five for 30 yards against the Bengals. The yardage put Ward past 12,000 in his career, a feat achieved by 18 others, but only two — Art Monk and Jerry Rice — who also have multiple Super Bowl wins.
“This was a big game, considering what was at stake, but we just wanted to play out game,” Ward said. “(And) it was pretty special for me to get 12,000 yards, especially for a guy like me who’s not known to be a deep threat. But I’ve been able to accomplish a lot in my career with the Steelers.
“I’m so glad to do reach this goal with the organization I began my career with, but I think my teammates were more aware of it than me. They were counting down. Four more yards, they said after my first catch, and they celebrated when I got it. So, this was a big win, and I’m going to celebrate it myself.”
Defensively, Ryan Clark led with eight tackles, while Ike Taylor and Lawrence Timmons had seven each. James Harrison had six tackles, three quarterback sacks and three hurries. Taylor also had a pick and three pass breakups.
“Anytime you get this game from all three phases, the other team should be in for a long day,” Harrison said. “And that’s what happened to the Bengals today. The way I’m playing, I think I’m getting better and better each week.
“Last week, I might have had a little setback with my back, but I played much better this week. And I’m getting stronger, so it’s not a matter of pain tolerance it’s just getting my strength back to where I need it to be.”
Harrison had his sack-mate LaMarr Woodley back on the other bookend to start the game, but after missing three games in four weeks with a hamstring injury Woodley still was unable to come all the way back. He played a short time and then had to leave since he felt a twinge in it, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
“The game plan was to not play the entire game anyway, so once we started racking up some points and everything I just came out,” Woodley said. “My hamstring got tired, just like they (trainers) said it would. I felt pretty good, but it got tired. And I stayed out after that.”
But it didn’t matter for the Steelers, who pretty much rolled past the Bengals after holding them to a field-goal try after their first possession that actually was blocked by rookie defensive end Cam Heyward.
“Steve (McLendon) and Ziggy (Hood) did a good job as well to get penetration, and I was able to get my left hand up,” Heyward said. “But that’s all I did. I just put my hand up. I really didn’t know where the ball was for sure, so I’m not going to say that I meant to do it. But the other guys took care of their guys, and I was able to jump up and get the block.”
The Steelers scored on the ensuing possession and never looked back.