One touchdown drive, one field goal drive. That's all the Cincinnati Bengals' Ocho Cinco-less offense managed against the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense and, given the numbers, that was more than fitting.
PITTSBURGH — One touchdown drive, one field goal drive. That's all the Cincinnati Bengals' Ocho Cinco-less offense managed against the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense and, given the numbers, that was more than fitting.
This Steelers defense is all about being first: No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, No. 1 in rushing defense, passing defense and sacks. No NFL defense has led the league in so many major categories since the 1991 Eagles.
The Steelers (8-3) are making up for a relative scarcity of scoring with an abundance of defense. Fittingly enough, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was honored before their 27-10 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night in recognition of his 50 years as an NFL player and coach.
It didn't take the Bengals (1-9-1) long to recognize what they were up against.
"That's a great defense," offensive tackle Anthony Collins said.
How good? Get back to the Steelers after they've played the Patriots, Cowboys, Ravens, Titans and Browns, a difficult closing stretch that will test the AFC North leaders.
Those teams may need more offense than the Chargers and Bengals got in Pittsburgh during a five-day span — a total of 20 points, two touchdowns and 421 yards, with Cincinnati getting 208 yards. Another impressive statistic: Pittsburgh has allowed only nine points in the third quarter, an average of fewer than 1 point per game.
"We'll find out (at the end of the season)," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said of how this defense ranks against others of recent NFL vintage. "We definitely feel our record could be better. But we're 8-3 and we've got to continue to add more wins."
Adding a few more touchdown drives might help.
The Steelers, 11-10 winners over San Diego on Sunday, went more than seven quarters without a touchdown until Ben Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller on a 3-yard scoring pass that tied it at 7 early in the second quarter.
The Bengals (1-9-1) weren't looking for another tie five days after playing the Eagles to a 13-all draw, but they certainly didn't expect the offense to virtually shut down following Ryan Fitzpatrick's 10-yard scoring pass to Glenn Holt in the first quarter.
They managed a single first down during their next eight possessions, even while receiving a gift turnover when a punt inadvertently deflected off the Steelers' Limas Sweed and the Bengals recovered at the Pittsburgh 39 with a minute left before halftime.
The Bengals, perhaps not surprisingly, did nothing with the opportunity.
Their players wouldn't speculate whether wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco's benching for violating team rules played a role in the offense's disappearance, but he was one of nine starters on both sides of the ball who didn't play all or most of the game; the others were injured.
Coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't explain why the receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson was disciplined following an apparent disagreement during a team meeting.
"I know he's done worse," defensive lineman John Thornton said. "I think this was just a statement from coach (Lewis) at this kind of season we're having. He needs everybody on the same page. He suspended him and told us about it and we all moved on. I don't think it had a big effect on the game."
With Ocho Cinco missing, the Steelers blanketed leading receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who was held to four catches for 20 yards after having six receptions or more in eight consecutive games.
"I'm sure he (Ocho Cinco) would have helped, but we lost eight games with him so I don't know how much," Houshmandzadeh said.
Three Pittsburgh starters went down, running back Willie Parker and defensive end Brett Keisel with knee injuries and wide receiver Santonio Holmes with a concussion. The Steelers don't play again until Nov. 30 at New England (6-4), which gives them extra time to heal if their injuries are not severe.
Coach Mike Tomlin gave his players off until Tuesday, an unusually long break so late in the season that wide receiver Hines Ward compared it to having an extra bye week.
Despite not having Parker for most of the second half, the Steelers added TD runs by Roethlisberger and backup Gary Russell while beating Cincinnati for the fifth consecutive time. Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 37 and 38 yards on a frigid night as snow flurries occasionally created a white blanket on the slippery playing field.
"That's been the whole motto all year — guys come in and do a phenomenal job," Ward said. "A guy goes down, the expectation level is the same."
Right now, expectations for the Bengals and their league-worst offense couldn't be much lower.
"It's been the tale of our season," Houshmandzadeh said.
The Steelers seem certain to bring in a new punter after Paul Ernster averaged 28.4 yards on five punts. He was signed earlier this month to replace Mitch Berger, who was ineffective as the replacement for Daniel Sepulveda (knee injury). ... Pittsburgh is 7-1 against the AFC. ... Cincinnati, with only 11 sacks in 11 games, did not drop Roethlisberger, who was sacked a league high-tying 32 times in his first 10 games. ... Russell's touchdown run was the first of his career. ... Holt did not have a catch all season until making one shortly before his TD catch. ... Holmes had five receptions for 84 yards before being leveled by safety Chris Crocker during the third quarter.