LOS ANGELES: Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard scored two touchdowns in a 27-17 victory as the Pittsburgh Steelers slid to a third consecutive defeat in a hardfought divisional battle on Monday. The Steelers, looking for a win to clinch the AFC North after suffering back-to-back defeats, never recovered after a disastrous first half which saw the Bengals race into a 17-0 lead. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked out of sorts throughout as the Pittsburgh offense combined for a paltry 40 yards in the first two quarters with three turnovers and only two first downs.
The Bengals, meanwhile, long since eliminated from playoff contention with only two wins against 10 losses heading into Monday's game, were on the front foot from the outset. An Austin Seibert field goal put the Bengals ahead in the first quarter, before Bernard scored the first of his two touchdowns in the second quarter after rushing into the end zone from four yards. Roethlisberger then coughed up an interception on the Steelers' next possession, when his pass intended for Juju Smith-Schuster was picked off by Cincinnati cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
From the ensuing drive, Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley connected with Bernard for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 17-0 at halftime. The Steelers rallied after the interval with 10 unanswered points in the third quarter, Roethlisberger picking out Diontae Johnson for 23 yards and a touchdown before Chris Boswell's field goal from 25 yards made it 17-10. But Cincinnati continued to cause problems for the Steelers defense, and a clever play fake sent the entire Pittsburgh cover the wrong way to allow Finley to sprint clear into the end zone for a 23-yard rush that made it 24-10.
Although Benny Snell Jr. cut the Bengals lead to seven points with a touchdown with just over five minutes remaining, Pittsburgh's chances of forcing overtime vanished when they turned over on downs with just under two minutes left. Seibert's second field goal of the night with 12 seconds remaining sealed the win. The defeat means the Steelers now face a nervous finale to the regular season, with the Cleveland Browns just one game behind in the divisional standings on 10-4. The Steelers lead the division on 11-3. - AFP