PITTSBURGH – Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green grew so antsy waiting for Andy Dalton to snap the ball early in the Bengals' game against Pittsburgh, the star rookie flinched.
His team soon followed.
Green's false-start penalty negated a touchdown pass from Dalton to Jermaine Gresham on Cincinnati's opening series, the first of a dizzying array of mistakes by the Bengals in a 35-7 loss Sunday that all but ended Cincinnati's hopes of making a run at the AFC North title.
"It's tough," Green said. "We shot ourselves in the foot sometimes. Being the veteran team they are, they capitalized on everything we did."
The Steelers (9-3) sent the reeling Bengals (7-5) to their third loss in four games. With a big second quarter, the defending AFC champions provided upstart Cincinnati with a reminder on what it takes to win in December.
Pittsburgh scored four touchdowns in the span of 12 minutes, and the Bengals never recovered.
"They beat us in every area today, beat us on offense, beat us on defense, beat us in special teams," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "It was just one thing after another."
The Bengals have rebuilt themselves on the fly behind the steady play of Dalton and Green, but neither could rally Cincinnati to a fourth double-digit second-half comeback this season after Pittsburgh's early onslaught.
"The game got over, basically, in the second quarter," Lewis said. "We were never able to climb quite back in it in the third quarter like we expected."
The Steelers never really gave the Bengals a chance. Dalton was sacked three times by Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison and limited to 135 yards passing and a touchdown before spending the fourth quarter on the bench with the game well out of reach.
"We can't let this hurt us," Dalton said. "We can't let this affect the next four."
Blocking it out may be difficult, particularly considering how the Bengals dominated the early portion of the game. Cincinnati forced the Steelers to a quick punt then crisply drove deep into Pittsburgh territory. Dalton appeared to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead when he hit Gresham for a 4-yard score. A penalty flag cut short the celebration as Green was cited for moving just before the snap.
"Just a tiny little flinch, a little flinch," Green said. "I was just trying to time that snap up and get off the ball quick. I flinched a little bit."
Cincinnati appeared to salvage the drive on Mike Nugent's field goal, but a delay of game forced the Bengals back another 5 yards. Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward blocked the second kick, and the Bengals were suddenly on the ropes.
It didn't take the Steelers long to deliver the knockout. Rashard Mendenhall capped an 87-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, then added a 5-yard score on Pittsburgh's next possession. Cincinnati's Brandon Tate fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Steelers needed just three plays make it 21-0 on Ben Roethlisberger's 12-yard scoring pass to Mike Wallace.
The Bengals briefly got back in it on an 11-yard pass from Dalton to Green, but the Steelers regained control on Antonio Brown's 60-yard punt return with 1:16 to go in the half.
Lewis did little to downplay the game's importance, practically admitting his team's hopes for an outside shot at a divisional title would all but disappear if his surprising club couldn't earn a split with the Steelers.
The Bengals hung tough in a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh three weeks ago, the kind of gritty performance that gave them hope they could beat their division rivals and stay alive in their pursuit of a second division title in three seasons.
Thrust into the role of contender, the Bengals wilted in the spotlight, reverting back to the kind of mistakes they've largely avoided this season. Cincinnati committed 10 penalties for 109 yards, turned it over twice and went meekly in the final moments.
"It's just embarrassing," Cincinnati defensive back Chris Crocker said. "You don't feel good at all. When they're beating you so bad that their fans leave, that's just a bad feeling."
Notes: The Steelers have swept the Bengals seven times in the last 11 seasons. ... Pittsburgh hosts Cleveland on Thursday night, while the Bengals host Houston on Sunday.