The Cincinnati Bengals lost their grip on the ball. Then they lost their grip on the game.
Their coronation as the new power in the AFC North is going to have to wait at least one more week.
Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score in a 64-second span in the first quarter and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Bengals 30-20 on Sunday night.
Shaun Suisham added three field goals for the Steelers (6-8), who built a 24-point lead and hardly looked like a team playing out the string.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Le’Veon Bell added 117 yards of total offense.
Andy Dalton completed 25 of 44 for 230 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but Cincinnati (9-5) never recovered after getting staggered early at frigid Heinz Field.
Looking to move closer to a third straight playoff berth, the Bengals were undone by a series of miscues on special teams.
Bell scored two plays after Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber dropped a snap while standing near the goal line after the Bengals’ first possession. Pittsburgh’s Will Allen dropped Huber at the 1 and Bell bulled into the end zone on second down for his sixth touchdown of the season.
Cincinnati’s issues continued on the ensuing kickoff.
Officials ruled Cedric Peerman called for a fair catch at the Cincinnati 9, wiping out a lengthy return. The Bengals eventually punted, setting up the Steelers with a short field. Pittsburgh went 47 yards in eight plays, with Roethlisberger buying enough time for Brown to get open for a 12-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-0.
Brown’s early work wasn’t done. Cincinnati punted yet again and Brown took it 67 yards right up the middle, breaking a tackle at midfield on his way to the second punt return for a score in his four-year career for Pittsburgh’s third touchdown of the quarter.
The Steelers, who need to win out to avoid their first losing season since 2003, had been outscored 77-43 in the first quarter coming in.
Huber took a hard hit from Pittsburgh’s Terence Garvin during the return. Huber was down on the field for several minutes before walking straight to the Cincinnati locker room with a fractured jaw. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent took over Huber’s punting duties.
Bengals linebacker James Harrison, making his first appearance in Pittsburgh since leaving the Steelers to sign with the Bengals in the offseason, left in the first quarter because of a concussion.
Pittsburgh extended its lead to 24-0 before the Bengals steadied themselves with a 47-yard touchdown drive capped by Giovani Bernard’s 1-yard run. The Steelers responded late in the half with Suisham’s 45-yard field goal by to give them their biggest halftime lead of the season.
Suisham’s third field goal pushed Pittsburgh’s advantage to 30-7 before the Bengals responded with Dalton’s 1-yard touchdown pass from to Tyler Eifert.
Dalton later found Marvin Jones for a 13-yard score on fourth-and-5 with 5:51 to play, but Dalton’s 2-point conversion attempt was batted down at the line of scrimmage, keeping the deficit at 10 points.
Cincinnati got the ball back one more time, and Dalton’s long heave to A.J. Green on fourth down fell incomplete.