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Steelers 28, Bengals 21: Antonio Brown provides finishing touch

It was getting to be time to ban all WiFi references involving Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. That whole theme had kind of been beaten to the ground. CBS even did a graphic on it, for crying out loud.

But then with 10 seconds left in the Steelers’ game at Cincinnati on Sunday, Roethlisberger’s game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to Brown happened.

That, well, that connection and Roethlisberger’s 2-point conversion pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster gave the Steelers a 28-21 win over the Bengals.

All right, so let’s play along.

How’s this:

Never mind WiFi, Roethlisberger and Brown had a WiMAX connection on that play.

WiMAX is basically WiFi with citywide connectivity.

Or something.

Anyway, if we butchered that definition, then we weren’t doing any worse than the Steelers before Brown capped that drive.

The Bengals had taken a 21-20 lead with 1:18 left. Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard pass to Smith-Schuster to begin the ensuing possession, but the Steelers took 25 seconds to run their next play. They faced third-and-10 at their own 41 with 29 seconds left, and it would have been fourth down if the Bengals hadn’t shown once again that no matter how inept the Steelers may be at the time, they can do worse.

Dre Kirkpatrick rescued defeat from the jaws of victory against the Steelers last season at Cincinnati with his pass interference penalties. On Sunday, he helped extend the Steelers’ winning streak over the Bengals to seven games with a defensive-holding infraction to give the Steelers a first down instead of a fourth down. Then came a 23-yard Roethlisberger pass to Smith-Schuster that moved the Steelers to the Bengals’ 31 and the fringe of Chris Boswell‘s field-goal range.

Then for once the Bengals did something smart on the next play. It just didn’t work.

Half the population of Cincinnati blitzed Roethlisberger to try to get him out of field-goal range. So Roethlisberger flung the ball to Brown around the 30, and Brown shot through the open pasture for the TD.

Brown had just three catches for 26 yards through the first 53 minutes of the game. The Steelers led 17-14 at that point and it was starting to look like they weren’t going to need a huge game from Brown to beat a good team.

That’s when Brown broke out with two big plays that the Steelers would need. With 6:22 left, he caught a pass from Roethlisberger near midfield and took it to the Bengals’ 14 to set up Boswell’s 24-yard field goal that increased the Steelers’ lead to 20-14 with 3:32 remaining.

Settling for two field goals to break a 14-14 halftime tie looked like it would cost the Steelers when the Bengals took the lead.

Until Brown’s other big play.

Like he did so many times during last year’s 13-3 campaign, Brown pulled the Steelers’ feet from the fire. But the Steelers would have completely gone down in flames Sunday without several others setting the stage for Brown.

Like Vance McDonald.

The tight end is two-thirds of the way to his career high for receptions for a season. He has 20 this year after catching seven for 68 yards on Sunday. He shed Vontaze Burfict, among other Bengals would-be tacklers, on a 26-yard play that sparked a scoring drive that gave the Steelers a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.

As powerful as the Steelers offense was expected to be, not many figured that McDonald would turn out to be a legitimate weapon. McDonald is starting to look like the athletic, bruising tight end the Steelers have lacked since Heath Miller retired. He could turn out to be worth a fourth-round pick after all.

One thing the Steelers haven’t lacked at any point this season is a top-tier running back, even if they’re still waiting for one of them to show up.

James Conner ran for 111 yards on 19 carries and punched in two 1-yard touchdowns in the first half. Through Sunday afternoon’s games, Conner is fourth in the NFL with 453 rushing yards and tied with Todd Gurley atop the league with seven rushing touchdowns.

It’s now official. The Steelers don’t miss Le’Veon Bell. They might get him back after next week’s bye, but without him they’ve gone 3-2-1 and are a half-game out of first place in the AFC North behind the Bengals and Ravens, who both are 4-2.

The Steelers always will miss Ryan Shazier, who walked onto the field that he couldn’t walk off of when he was injured last year. Over the last two weeks, however, the Steelers finally might be adjusting to life without Shazier.

After holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons to 17 points in Week 5, the Steelers held Andy Dalton and the No. 4 scoring offense to 21 points and 275 yards, sacking Dalton three times.

It’s the lowest yardage the Steelers have allowed since they held the Texans to 227 yards in Week 16 last season.

The Steelers’ kickoff coverage takes much of the blame for one of the Bengals’ first-half touchdowns Sunday. The Steelers had just taken a 14-7 lead when a 47-yard kickoff return by Alex Erickson and a penalty gave the Bengals the ball at the Steelers’ 44. Cincinnati tied it five plays later.

The Bengals’ first three possessions of the second half ended in punts, and the Steelers were on their way to a workmanlike, if unspectacular, victory reminiscent of the days when defense was the franchise’s calling card.

The defense isn’t quite at that point yet, however. This victory would require something dramatic after the Bengals put together their longest drive of the day to take that 21-20 lead.

Well, Brown can do drama. Only this time his theatrics were a lot more entertaining.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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