Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers run over Cincinnati Bengals

By Jim Wexell, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 22, 2017 at 9:39 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are learning that in spite of the explosive potential of their passing game, Le'Veon Bell sets the tone.

Bell carried 35 times for 134 yards against the NFL's second-ranked defense to lead the Steelers to a 29-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Heinz Field.

Knocked out of two prior seasons by Cincinnati hits to his right knee, Bell acknowledged before the game he feels the Bengals "target" him and said "I'm going to protect myself, play hard and try to get the W."

Bell protected himself at one point by using what he called "one of the better stiff-arms in my life" to knock over Dre Kirkpatrick on his way to a 42-yard gain.

"That's part of protecting myself," Bell said. "Obviously just running hard, making sure I don't relax and take any late so-called cheap shots, just make sure I run the ball hard, get down to the ground and get up safe. I came out of the game healthy so I feel blessed."

Bell said the game included the usual Bengals nastiness, but, "You kind of expect that, so it is what it is. I just don't like when guys make dirty plays. It's OK to play tough and hit guys hard during the course of the play, but I don't like the unnecessary roughness after the play, like my fullback getting kicked in the face. That's not football to me."

Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix complained to Bell on the sideline that linebacker Vontaze Burfict had kicked him in the head.

"We got back in the huddle. We played football," Bell said. "Obviously Rosie was upset about it and I had to keep him calm on the sideline, and that's why Rosie was playing the way he was in between the whistles. Every time he had an opportunity to go iso(late) with 55 (Burfict), he did what he did. He had a great game. That's why he's the best fullback in the world."

Nix and the offensive line had their way with Cincinnati's front, so Ben Roethlisberger kept feeding Bell. It was Bell's third game out of the team's last four in which he carried 32 times or more. The Steelers won all three, and in games in which Bell has carried 27 times or more, the Steelers are 4-0.

How many more games can he carry such a load?

"Well, at least nine more," Bell said after Pittsburgh improved to 5-2.

Bell sparked a Steelers touchdown drive on their first possession when he carried five times for 27 yards and gained 23 on a pass reception, before Antonio Brown caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger.

The Bengals tied the game late in the first quarter on a 6-yard Andy Dalton touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell. Joe Mixon's 25-yard run and A.J. Green's 16-yard catch on third-and-5 were the key plays.

The Steelers answered with a 74-yard touchdown drive that took only 2:18. Roethlisberger threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was wide open at the 10 and trotted into the end zone to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead. The NFL's youngest player celebrated with a game of hide-and-go-seek with Bell.

The high-scoring first half continued when the Bengals tied the game on their ensuing drive. They went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1 and Dalton delivered a play-action pass to wide-open tight end Tyler Kroft that knotted the score at 14-14.

The Steelers ended the half with a pair of short field goals for a 20-14 lead, and Chris Boswell greeted the second half with another field goal for Pittsburgh. Defensive end Michael Johnson's stop of Bell on third-and-1 resulted in the 41-yard kick and a 23-14 Steelers lead.

Boswell's fourth field goal was his longest of the game, 49 yards, to give the Steelers a 26-14 lead with 5:28 left in the third quarter. It followed Joe Haden's interception of the only pass thrown to Green with Haden in coverage. The two adversaries enjoy a rivalry that began in college and has continued through Haden's years in Cleveland and now with the Steelers.

The Steelers' defense stifled the Bengals the rest of the way, and a successful fake punt by Pittsburgh ended the drama. Punt-team fullback/reserve safety Rob Golden took a snap with 6:53 left and lofted a 44-yard bomb to gunner/wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. It led to Boswell's fifth field goal, a 25-yarder, to give him 11 field goals in the Steelers' last two games against the Bengals.

Roethlisberger completed 14 of 24 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating of 117.4 is a season high.

Mixon rushed for 48 yards on seven carries to lead the Bengals, who fell to 2-4.

"I thought we came into the game in the right frame of mind," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We just have to stay true to it all the way through."

NOTES: Pittsburgh RB Le'Veon Bell added three catches for 58 yards to give him a season-high 192 yards of total offense, topping the 191 he compiled last Sunday in Kansas City. ... The Steelers had four sacks by four different players and didn't allow any. ... The Bengals entered the game last in offensive red-zone touchdown percentage, but scored touchdowns on their only two attempts Sunday. ... Bengals MLB Kevin Minter injured his right elbow with 6:14 left in the second quarter and didn't return. Minter was replaced by Vincent Rey, and on his first play Rey missed a tackle on Bell that turned into a 42-yard reception. Rey then left with an injury in the fourth quarter. ... Bengals captain LB Vontaze Burfict refused to shake hands with three Steelers captains at the pre-game coin toss. ... The Steelers played without starting DL Stephon Tuitt and RT Marcus Gilbert. Tyson Alualu replaced Tuitt and Chris Hubbard replaced Gilbert. ... The Bengals were without starters CB Adam Jones and TE Ryan Hewitt. They were replaced by Darqueze Dennard and Cethan Carter.

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