PITTSBURGH, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Cincinnati's Jon Kitna threw four incomplete passes during the final minute from the Pittsburgh five-yard line Sunday, allowing the Steelers to hang onto first place in the AFC North with a 29-21 victory over the Bengals.
On fourth down, Kitna threw what appeared to be a touchdown pass to Chad Johnson in the front right corner of the end zone. But cornerback Chad Scott stripped the ball from Johnson.
"Pittsburgh only stopped us once today," Kitna said. "Twenty-one points is not enough. They have a good offense, we know. (But) I put us in a bad position a couple of times. You can't let that happen."
The Steelers (6-4-1) looked well on their way to a rout of the Bengals (1-10), taking a 17-0 lead less than 21 minutes into the contest. But Cincinnati came back to take a 21-20 lead on a 20-yard pass from Kitna to rookie tight end Matt Schobel with 8:35 to play.
After stopping Pittsburgh on its next possession, T.J. Houshmandzadeh fumbled the ensuing punt at the Bengals' 28. Kicker Jeff Reed, signed by the Steelers last Tuesday to replace the injured Todd Peterson, then made a 45-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh back on top with 4:44 remaining.
"The last two games I think I lost the games," said Houshmandzadeh, who lost a fumble in a 27-20 loss to Cleveland last week. "I just keep thinking about what I didn't do. I guess I saw a guy to my left and a guy to my right. I tried to split them. He just hit me. The ball came out."
After stopping the Bengals, the Steelers took a 29-21 advantage on a 24-yard run by Jerome Bettis with 2:45 left.
But Reed hooked the extra point, giving the Bengals another shot.
"That could have been a nine-point lead," said Reed, who refused to blame the choppy Heinz Field turf for his miss. "You need to make that because if you do, then the game is over. I hear a lot about this field and how it's rough on kickers. (But) this is my home and there is no reason to say it is a nightmare."
Cincinnati started its final drive at Pittsburgh's 31 after a long kickoff return by Houshmandzadeh and a facemask penalty committed by Reed on the tackle. Kitna was successful on a fourth-down pass to Johnson just after the two-minute warning, but became stalled inside the five.
The Bengals lost to Cleveland last week, 27-20, when they were stopped inside the one-yard line in the final minute.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart, who returned to the starting lineup after Tommy Maddox suffered cerebral and spinal concussions in a loss at Tennessee last week, was 22 of 26 for 236 yards and one touchdown without an interception. Stewart lost his starting job to Maddox aftre struggling through the Steelers' first three games.
"I was feeling energetic the whole day because I was like a kid playing the in the sandbox," Stewart said. "I was excited to have the opportunity. Talking to Hines (Ward) and Plaxico (Burress) and the offensive line, keeping them going, my mind was so into the game. I was trying to think what the defense was giving me and not about mistakes. It was just a great game all around the board."
Bettis gained 79 yards and surpassed O.J. Simpson for 11th place on the all-time rushing list. Ward had four catches for 125 yards, surpassing 1,000 yards on the season.
Kitna was 22 of 39 for 298 yards and one score while Johnson had seven catches for a career-high 152 yards.
The Steelers took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard run by Bettis 5:26 into the contest and doubled their lead on a 64-yard strike from Stewart to Ward. Reed, who made three of four field goals and two of three extra points, connected on a 33-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 10:40 to play in the second quarter.
Cincinnati star running back Corey Dillon was limited to 60 yards on 19 carries but scored on runs of 10 and two yards to get the Bengals within 17-14 before halftime.
"That's three, four games in a row that have been close," Schobel said. "We just have to find a way to win these games."