The Cincinnati Bengals accomplished a feat they hadn't achieved in three decades. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, they'll now have to wait until next year.
Josh Brown booted a 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to give Cincinnati a 13-10 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field, vaulting the Bengals into the playoffs while eliminating their AFC North rival in the process.
Cincinnati (9-6), an AFC wild card entry a year ago, last reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982. The Bengals will be one again this postseason, as Baltimore clinched the AFC North with its win over the New York Giants on Sunday. Cincinnati is locked into the sixth seed.
Brown's clutch kick came one play after Andy Dalton and A.J. Green connected on a 21-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 25, and two after Bengals safety Reggie Nelson intercepted Ben Roethlisberger near midfield with 14 seconds remaining in regulation.
"Huge team win," said Dalton. "It's exactly what we needed to have happen, we needed everybody to play well. Our defense played great, giving us good field position and different things. Obviously (on) offense there's areas we can improve, but it feels good to get the win."
Roethlisberger was picked off twice on the afternoon, with Leon Hall returning the first 17 yards for Cincinnati's lone touchdown of the game back in the first quarter. He finished just 14-of-28 for 220 yards and one touchdown in the loss, the third straight and fifth in six games for the spiraling Steelers (7-8).
"We had a chance to win the game, and I blew it," Roethlisberger said afterward.
Dalton finished with 278 yards on 24-of-41 passing and was also intercepted twice, with Green amassing 116 yards on 10 catches to help the resurgent Bengals to their sixth triumph in their last seven outings.
The teams remained locked in a 10-10 stalemate all throughout the fourth quarter, with both Brown and Pittsburgh counterpart Shaun Suisham coming up short on would-be go-ahead field goal tries from beyond 50 yards away in the final four minutes. The Steelers would get the ball back one last time with 44 seconds left, and chose to play for the win.
The move would backfire, however, when Roethlisberger floated a deep pass for Mike Wallace down the right sideline that was plucked by Nelson, with the Cincinnati safety scampering 10 yards before being knocked out at the Pittsburgh 46.
Dalton dropped back on the next snap and fired a dart to Green along the right sideline, with the second-year standout keeping his feet in bounds at the Steelers' 25 with eight seconds still on the clock.
"It was exactly what we were looking for," Dalton said. "They were playing (Green) soft and he was able to cross the corner's face, and I was able to throw it where only A.J. could catch it."
Brown was immediately summoned and calmly split the uprights to secure Cincinnati's spot in the postseason.
"(The wind) did what we thought it was going to do," said Brown of the kick. The wind was going right-to-left and I put it inside the right upright."
Cincinnati mustered only 88 yards and six first downs on offense during the first half, but still carried a 10-7 lead into the break in part due to a pair of critical Pittsburgh mistakes.
The first came from Roethlisberger, who threw into traffic for Heath Miller and was picked off by Hall near his own end. The Cincinnati corner then side- stepped his way to a 17-yard touchdown for the game's first points.
Pittsburgh marched deep into Bengals' territory on the ensuing possession, highlighted by a 20-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall that placed the Steelers into the red zone. Head coach Mike Tomlin would opt for a short field goal attempt on 4th-and-1 later on, but Suisham shanked a 24-yard try to the left in what turned out to be a very damaging miss.
Cincinnati ended up with good field position following an exchange of punts, and a 23-yard shovel toss from Dalton to Brandon Tate set up Brown's 40-yard field goal that put the Bengals up 10-0 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
The Steelers needed just two passes and 32 seconds to answer, as Antonio Brown flew past Cincinnati corner Adam Jones and hauled in a well-thrown Roethlisberger deep ball for a 60-yard score that cut Pittsburgh's deficit to three by intermission.
Dalton was intercepted by Cortez Allen at the Bengals' 32-yard line on the initial play from scrimmage of the first half, but the Cincinnati defense again came up big to preserve its advantage. Roethlisberger was sacked by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap for an 8-yard loss on third down, taking the Steelers out of Suisham's range and forcing a punt.
"It's disheartening, because we had chances as a football team," said Tomlin.
Pittsburgh did cash in on its next series, with Roethlisberger hitting on 4- of-5 throws on a 10-play, 45-yard sequence that ultimately resulted in a 40- yard Suisham field goal that knotted the score at 10-10 with 4:01 to go in the third quarter.
Antonio Brown recorded 97 yards on five catches to lead the Steelers, while Miller ended with 45 yards on three grabs before exiting late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right ankle injury ... Cincinnati's defense has allowed just 12.1 points and forced 18 turnovers over the last seven games ... Atkins was responsible for 2 1/2 of the Bengals' four sacks on the day and now has 13 on the season, tying a club record set by Eddie Edwards in 1983 ... Allen had both Pittsburgh interceptions and also forced a fumble in the loss ... Mendenhall returned from a 1-game team-imposed suspension and finished with 50 rushing yards on 11 carries ... The Bengals halted a string of five straight losses in the series.