CINCINNATI – Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and went to his knee for the final play, tucking the ball under his left arm before heading to the locker room.
Felt like old times for the Pittsburgh Steelers — and like most times when they play in Cincinnati.
The Steelers got their first road win of the season and moved into second place in the AFC North with a 24-17 victory over the Bengals on Sunday night, overcoming potentially devastating injuries and mistakes.
Roethlisberger, a bunch of running-game fill-ins and a determined defense got the Steelers through a tough night, prompting the quarterback to hold onto the ball at the end.
"That is the first time that we have done the 'victory formation' this year to end it," he said.
After dropping their first three road games and putting their season on the brink so early, the Steelers (3-3) closed in on Baltimore (5-2), turning the division back into a familiar two-team race.
"It puts us right there in the hunt," safety Ryan Clark said.
They pulled it off even though so many of them were standing on the sideline in sweat suits. The Steelers were missing their top two running backs — Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman — as well as center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert because of injury.
It could have gotten very ugly after the Bengals pulled ahead 14-3 in the first half. Instead, Roethlisberger took advantage of Andy Dalton's interception, throwing for a tying touchdown and 2-point conversion. And third-year running back Jonathan Dwyer made his first career start and ran for a career-high 122 yards, including a 32-yard gain in the closing minute that finished it off.
"It shows how talented we are and that we try to live up to that high standard," Dwyer said.
A lot of players pulled them through.
Shaun Suisham kicked field goals of 42, 47 and 42 yards. And the defense shut down Cincinnati's Dalton-to-A.J. Green connection.
"It was a back-against-the-wall mentality and you've got to fight your way out," said cornerback Ike Taylor, who helped limit Green, a Pro Bowl receiver, to one catch.
Cincinnati (3-4) wasted yet another chance to show it can keep up with the division's best. The Bengals are 0-6 against the Steelers and Ravens over the last two seasons.
Now, they've lost three straight, falling into third place in the division.
"It's going to be tough to sleep," cornerback Leon Hall said. "At the end of the day, we've lost three in a row and we're in a tough spot."
They knew this was their best chance yet to break through, especially after the Steelers dropped passes, fumbled and threw an end zone interception in a self-destructive first half. They couldn't take advantage against the team that always seems to win on their home field.
The Steelers improved to 12-2 at Paul Brown Stadium, where thousands of towel-waving fans make them feel at home. They have won their last five overall against their Ohio River rival and 10 of the last 12.
And once again, the Bengals could blame themselves.
Andy Dalton's slip-out-of-the-hand interception set up Roethlisberger's 9-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller and a tying 2-point conversion to the tight end with 24 seconds left in the half. Chris Rainey's 11-yard touchdown run put the Steelers ahead early in the fourth quarter, and the injury fill-ins finished them off.
"I'm proud of the way those young guys stepped up," said Roethlisberger, who was 27 of 37 for 278 yards. "There never was a doubt they would do that."
Dalton's only glaring mistake made the difference.
He saw a defender waiting to make an interception and tried to stop his throwing motion. The ball slipped out of his hand, hit the helmet of Bengals lineman Kevin Zeitler and deflected to linebacker LaMarr Woodley at the Cincinnati 29-yard line with 1:23 left in the half. That set up Roethlisberger's tying TD pass and conversion.
"You can't have a thing like that happen," Dalton said. "We had a chance to go down and score points or at least keep it where it was. What you can't let happen is not just let the ball slip out of your hands, but let them get an interception and get points."
Dalton was 14 of 28 for only 105 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He threw six passes toward Green but completed only one, an 8-yard touchdown after Roethlisberger's fumble.
"They did a great job taking me out of the game plan," Green said. "That's what it is."
NOTES: Steelers rookie NT Alameda Ta'amu served the first game of his two-game suspension for his arrest last weekend. ... Bengals rookie CB Dre Kirkpatrick was inactive for the seventh game. He hurt his left knee over the summer and hasn't played. He's expected to be ready after the Bengals' upcoming bye week. ... Bengals C Jeff Faine injured a hamstring, forcing rookie Trevor Robinson to take over in the second half.
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