Roles reversed for Steelers, Bengals

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> It was the good ol' days all over again. Jerome Bettis had salted away a 17-10 win by carrying six times on a drive that made the final 5:54 disappear, and the Steelers moved to the top of the division with a 2-1 record. The host Cincinnati Bengals settled into the basement at 0-3.

Today, the teams square off in Week 13 after 10 weeks of drastic change. The 6-5 Bengals are on top of the division and the 4-7 Steelers are in the basement. Bettis is coming off a season-high 93-yard performance, which is a half's work for what's become a powerful Bengals rushing attack.

These developments have Steelers fans wondering where all the good times have gone, because it appears as if the good times are just beginning for the Bengals, who've won six of their last eight games and can knock the Steelers into next season with a win today at Heinz Field.

"They're playing with more confidence," said Bettis. "You look at that team and they're playing confident, running around, flying around. They're playing with a sense of urgency and you couldn't really say that years ago. That is noticeably different."

Marvin Lewis, the Bengals' first-year coach, is taking the bows. And he believes the loss to the Steelers was the turning point.

"That's the one where we kind of decided to start winning these football games and quit finding a reason, or a way, to lose them," he said. "We have a long way to go and this weekend in Pittsburgh will be another step in the process."

The aspect Lewis would like to see improved is his team's defense. It ranks 22nd in the league and has been particularly soft against the run of late.

Through the last five games, the Bengals have allowed opponents 5.2 yards per carry, although it's uncertain whether the Steelers can take advantage. Their 31st-ranked running game is still led by Bettis, who's rushed for more yardage (1,525) against the Bengals than against any other team in the league. Bettis averages 101.7 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry against the Bengals. That could make him their primary focus today.

"I think so," Bettis said. "Not only because of the past but because of last week's game and the game we had previously with them. With those factors I think that's definitely going to be the case. That's good because the passing game needs to have that big game so hopefully this can be the one that they sneak in under the radar."

The Steelers have gained over 100 yards rushing as a team only twice since their season-high 138 yards against the Bengals. If the Steelers can't run on the Bengals this time, they'll bite into a pass defense that's ranked 15th in the NFL.

"They did a couple things on us that first game that we'd never seen before," said Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress. "They were blitzing guys from everywhere and sending guys in situations where we thought they wouldn't. They were just being bold about it. They were saying 'This is who we are' and blitzing in the red zone, all out. That's Coach Lewis' mindset."

The bigger change has been the development of the Bengals' offense. Quarterback Jon Kitna has a passer rating of 89, or 10 points better than last season. He has two legitimate threats in Chad Johnson (65 receptions, 988 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Peter Warrick (54-592-5), with blazing rookie Kelly Washington coming on strong (5-61-1 last week). The Bengals' tight ends (43-476-2) have fought injuries this season, but all three - Tony Stewart, Matt Schobel, Reggie Kelly - are expected to play today.

The development of offensive linemen Levi Jones and Eric Steinbach - high picks in the last two drafts - has offset the decline of right tackle Willie Anderson, but it's the Bengals' running backs that are providing the biggest punch.

When perennial 1,000-yard rusher Corey Dillon went down with a groin injury against the Steelers, it was followed by sulking, an abdominal injury, more sulking and a car accident. Dillon is now healthy and has undergone an attitude adjustment since his replacement, Rudi Johnson, took over the team rushing lead with 537 yards in the last four games. Johnson was held to 65 yards last week since a revitalized Dillon returned to rush for 108.

The combo pushed the Bengals over the 200-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive week and set them up to do to the Steelers what the Steelers have seemingly forever done to the Bengals.

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