Brilliant defensive effort wasted

PITTSBURGH -- The last time the Steelers lost to a team that had fewer than 14 first downs, 218 total yards and didn't score ...

... an offensive touchdown was in Oakland during the 2006 season when the Steelers used a quarterback fresh off a concussion.

The previous loss against such a woeful offense was against Houston in 2002, when the Steelers used a quarterback who'd been paralyzed in his previous game.

The Steelers' defense posted the aforementioned numbers Sunday, and their quarterback was just fine. But somehow the Cincinnati Bengals left Heinz Field with an 18-12 win in a game for first place in the division.

"Maybe if we could've made some plays on the ball," said free safety Ryan Clark. "I know I dropped a pick I should've had."

Clark came closer to a turnover than any other Steelers defender. It occurred on a fourth-quarter pass from Carson Palmer that whistled past Chad Ochocinco, who wasn't looking for the ball. Clark was, but he dropped it. The Bengals then kicked their third field goal a few minutes later to break a tie score.

The Bengals' fourth and final field goal, with 1:56 left, gave the visitors an insurmountable 18-12 lead and perhaps an insurmountable lead in the AFC North Division – all after the Steelers had held Palmer and Cedric Benson to season-low yardage totals. The Bengals' third major offensive component, Ochocinco, bettered his season-low of 24 receiving yards by only five yards on Sunday.

It was a brilliant effort by a Steelers defense that came into the game hoping to hold one of the NFL's most efficient red-zone teams to field goals instead of touchdowns. For the most part, the defense achieved its objective.

"Well," said coordinator Dick LeBeau, "our main objective is to win, and we didn't get that done."

The Steelers allowed a non-offensive touchdown for the seventh consecutive game when rookie Bernard Scott returned a kickoff 96 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.

The Bengals didn't reach the red zone until defensive end Frostee Rucker intercepted a deflected Ben Roethlisberger pass at the start of the third quarter. The Bengals moved nine yards in three plays before kicking a 23-yard field goal to tie the score, 9-9.

The Bengals moved to the Pittsburgh 14 on their next possession and had to settle for a 32-yard field goal and a 12-9 lead. Then came the dropped interception by Clark and another field goal, followed finally by an 11-play field goal drive in which the longest Bengals play was a 9-yard run by Scott. James Harrison aided that drive with an unconscionable 15-yard penalty in which he belted a Bengals player in front of several officials.

"It was a boneheaded play," said linebacker James Farrior. "But you can't get mad at him. What are you going to do?"

Offensively, the Steelers couldn't generate anything more than four field goals themselves, even though their quarterback was as healthy after the game as he was before it.

"They made more plays today," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "But hopefully this is exactly what we needed. Hopefully we needed to get knocked down a little bit. You know, we've lost games before and responded. We've got to do that this time."

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