CINCINNATI — At the end of a night full of foibles, tricks and missed chances, the Pittsburgh Steelers turned to their one constant to finish it off.
That unyielding defense came through again.
James Harrison and Ryan Clark stripped the ball away from Jordan Shipley near the 5-yard line on Cincinnati’s final play, preserving a 27-21 victory over the Bengals on Monday night that left the AFC North with a familiar, old look.
The Steelers (6-2) are again at the top, sharing the spot with Baltimore. The defending-champion Bengals (2-6) are in last place alone after their fifth straight loss, coming up one completion short.
Credit that last rib-jolting hit — legal all-around — by the Steelers’ on-the-spot defenders.
Pittsburgh seemed to be in control when Antwaan Randle El threw a 39-yard touchdown pass off a trick play to open the fourth quarter, building a 27-7 lead made possible by the Bengals’ many mistakes. Pittsburgh also had points set up by a fumble, a blocked punt and a missed field goal.
Then, the Steelers turned sloppy on their own. Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception that set up Terrell Owens’ second touchdown catch of the game, and Jeff Reed missed a 46-yard field goal try that would have clinched it with 3:59 to go.
The drama had just begun.
Palmer led the Bengals downfield with the help of a wacky play. His pass to Cedric Benson was tipped, but the running back made a juggling catch for a 16-yard gain on third-and-long. Chad Ochocinco’s only catch of the game moved it to the 12-yard line.
On fourth-and-5, Palmer found Shipley open over the middle in first-down range, but the two Steelers converged and squeezed the ball out to end it.