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Steelers' offense gets back on track in win over Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense and defense held up and, how's this for a change, so did their swampland of a playing field. The Cincinnati Bengals couldn't stand up, and that likely means another quiet January for a team that almost never plays past December.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense and defense held up and, how's this for a change, so did their swampland of a playing field. The Cincinnati Bengals couldn't stand up, and that likely means another quiet January for a team that almost never plays past December.

Hines Ward caught two touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger to break the Steelers' record for career scoring catches, and Pittsburgh ended a seven-game winning streak by road teams in their AFC North rivalry with the Bengals by winning 24-10 Sunday night.

Getting their offense back after being held to one touchdown in two games by the losing-record Jets and winless Dolphins, the Steelers (9-3) shook off an early 7-0 deficit to open a two-game division lead over the Cleveland Browns (7-5). And they all but eliminated the Bengals (4-8) for a third successive season.

"Hey, that's our job," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said.

Two seasons ago, the Steelers won a wild-card playoff game in Cincinnati and, last season, kept the Bengals out of the postseason by winning there on the final day of the regular season. Now, the Bengals can't win the division or finish any better than 8-8 . Even a four-game winning streak probably won't get them into the playoffs as a wild card.

"It's a loss that doesn't sit well with us," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We just didn't get things done. We had some chances. We didn't make some third downs. ... We missed some throws, and that ended up being the difference."

The home-field win was the first in the series since the Steelers beat the Bengals in Pittsburgh 28-17 in 2004. Cincinnati couldn't become the first team to win in Pittsburgh for three consecutive seasons since Heinz Field opened in 2001. The road team had won nine of the last 10 in the series.

Roethlisberger, who also scrambled 6 yards for a touchdown, ended a 66-yard drive immediately before halftime with a 2-yard TD flip to Ward that made it 17-7. Roethlisberger also hit Ward on an 8-yard scoring pass late in the third quarter that expanded the lead to 14 points and gave Ward 64 career TD catches, one more than Hall of Famer John Stallworth.

"It's something I never expected, to be up there with a great player like him," Ward said.

Heinz Field was an offense-stopping marshland Monday after more than an inch of rain fell atop a layer of sod installed only hours before. But the field dried up with some good weather last week and, despite more rain Sunday night, seemed to hold up well. An NFL operations official stayed in town all week to monitor the field.

"It wasn't a mire like it was Monday night, or a rice paddy field," Steelers left tackle Max Starks said. "It was a lot more substantial and stable, a little bit better footing."

The Bengals couldn't blame the field, as they managed only a field goal after Rudi Johnson's 1-yard TD run on their opening drive even though they had three possessions that began inside the Steelers' 30-yard line.

"The defense gave us plenty of opportunities out there," guard Bobbie Williams said. "It's just that we didn't capitalize. We had ample opportunity but didn't execute."

The rain appeared to cause both Roethlisberger and the Bengals' Carson Palmer to begin sailing throws over the heads of receivers. One such pass tipped off Ward's fingers directly to Madieu Williams for an interception midway through the first quarter that gave Cincinnati a chance to build on its 7-0 lead.

But the Bengals couldn't sustain any drives the rest of the half, with Shayne Graham missing a 43-yard field goal that would have made it 10-0.

"The first drive was great. We executed and played well, and we really never got anything going after that," Palmer said. "We kept getting good field position ... and we couldn't do anything with it."

After that successful opening drive, Palmer was only 11-of-37 to finish 17-of-44 for 183 yards. Roethlisberger was 21-of-32 for 184 yards and two interceptions.

"He (Palmer) was getting frustrated, we gave him a lot of different looks," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "You give him an opportunity, he'll pick you apart. You could see Chad (Johnson) and T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) getting frustrated out there."

Johnson, who has only one career 100-yard game against Pittsburgh, had six catches for 86 yards but didn't do much damage. Houshmandzadeh, who was leading the league after Week 12 with 83 catches, ended with five catches for 42 yards.

The Steelers, held without a touchdown for seven quarters dating to the second quarter of their 19-16 overtime loss to the Jets on Nov. 18, responded by putting together TD drives of 66 and 67 yards in the first half. They also turned Glenn Holt's fumble on a kickoff return into Jeff Reed's 21-yard field goal.

Roethlisberger was 8-of-12 for all 66 yards on the 12-play drive that ended with his 2-yard pass to Ward. He wasn't sacked once after being dropped 16 times in his previous three games.

Notes: The Steelers are 5-0 in the division with one game to play, Dec. 30 at Baltimore, and 7-0 at home. ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin won a challenge for the first time this season when Willie Parker's fumble on the second play of the third quarter that was apparently returned for a touchdown, was overturned on review. ... Parker did lose two fumbles later in the half, one that was unsuccessfully challenged by Tomlin, but ran 28 times for 87 yards. ... Ward's 13 TDS against Cincinnati are the most against any opponent.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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