CINCINNATI — With a second straight meltdown at home, the Bengals find themselves in deep trouble.
Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell came up big in a game that Pittsburgh had to win Sunday, leading the Steelers to a 42-21 drubbing of Cincinnati that left the AFC North race wide open — much to the Bengals' chagrin.
"Basically we need to get back on the right track," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "This one hurts, especially at home."
The Bengals (8-4-1) had been in control, up by a game and a half over everyone else. Another loss at home against a division rival left it a four-way race all over again.
And the defending division champs are staggering.
In their last two home games, the Bengals have lost to Cleveland and Pittsburgh by 21 points apiece. It's the first time they've dropped consecutive home games by 21 points since 2002 under Dick LeBeau, who is Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator.
It was Pittsburgh's most lopsided win at Paul Brown Stadium since a 38-10 victory in 2008. The Bengals play at Cleveland next Sunday, host Denver in a Monday night game, and then finish at Pittsburgh.
The Bengals had a chance to essentially knock Pittsburgh (8-5) out of title contention. Instead, they opened the door for everyone else.
"This is like playoff football now," cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "That is December in the NFL. Everyone is upset about this game. This team has a number of leaders. We will get this figured out."
The Bengals collapsed at the end, giving up 25 points in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, including a 94-yarder to rookie Martavis Bryant that put the Steelers in control.
Bell steadied Pittsburgh's offense by running for 185 yards, catching six passes for 50 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the second half. He became the sixth player in NFL history to have 200 all-purpose yards in three straight games.
The Steelers ran for 193 yards and piled up 543 overall — 229 of them in the fourth quarter.
"We ran the same play three or four times in a row and those guys just couldn't stop it," Bell said.
Roethlisberger emerged from a three-game funk by making big plays as well, including the longest touchdown pass in the NFL this season. Up by eight points and backed up on its 6-yard line, Pittsburgh decided to fake a handoff and let Roethlisberger drop into his end zone and throw deep.
Bryant ran past cornerback Leon Hall and caught the ball in stride along the right sideline, reaching the end zone untouched. Roethlisberger finished 25 of 39 for 350 yards.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green combined on an impressive pass-and-catch performance for Cincinnati. The receiver had 11 catches for a career-high 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter that put the Bengals ahead 21-17.
"It seems like we played well until the fourth quarter," Green said. "It cost us."
Dalton made Bengals history when he faked a handoff to Jeremy Hill and ran 20 yards untouched for a touchdown, the longest scoring run by a quarterback in franchise history.
He also made the game-turning mistake.
Dalton fumbled while faking another handoff to Hill, giving Pittsburgh possession at the Cincinnati 24. Bell ran 13 yards for the touchdown, and Roethlisberger's completion for the conversion gave Pittsburgh a 28-21 lead.
"The turnover hurt us, and they started rolling," said Dalton, who was 21 of 29 for 302 yards with two touchdowns. "You can't have that at that point in the game. We were still leading in the fourth quarter, and so we just needed to put a drive together."
NOTES: Steelers CB Ike Taylor was matched on Green despite injuries. He left in the fourth quarter with an injured left knee and right shoulder. ... Roethlisberger, who grew up in Ohio, is 18-4 in games in Cincinnati and Cleveland, including 10-2 at Paul Brown Stadium. ... LB James Harrison was inactive with a sore knee. ... The Bengals tried a fake punt in the first half that came up short. ... It was Green's second career 100-yard game against Pittsburgh and the 20th of his career, tied for second in Bengals history with Isaac Curtis.