Roethlisberger throws 3 TDs, Steelers beat Bengals 42-21 to make AFC North wide open again



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CINCINNATI — The only fans left at Paul Brown Stadium in the final minutes were the ones twirling those yellow towels and celebrating another significant Steelers victory in December.

This one was bigger than most.

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 the Cincinnati Bengals that left the AFC North race wide open.

Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, including a 94-yarder to rookie Martavis Bryant, and Bell scored three times as the Steelers (8-5) ran away by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter.

Now, it's a four-way race to the top.

"We have a great opportunity in front of us, so I'm going to embrace it," said Bell, who ran for two touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass. "This is the part of the year where things get a little tight, they get more exciting. Everybody in the locker room is excited about this last couple of weeks."

The Bengals (8-4-1) had been in control, up by a game and a half over everyone else. Another meltdown at home against a division rival left it anyone's title.

The defending division champions are in trouble.

In their last two home games, the Bengals have lost to both Cleveland and Pittsburgh by 21 points. 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.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words," Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey said.

Given how they dominated on Sunday, the Steelers figure it very well could be them. They're tied with Baltimore for second place, with Cleveland (7-6) right behind.

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 (rushing, receiving and returns) in three straight games — and joined Walter Payton as the only players with 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive 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 seven 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.

"We did a little play-action and I just let it fly," said Roethlisberger, who was 25 of 39 for 350 yards. "I've underthrown him in practice because when he gets running, he's fast. I just put it out there, let him run under it, and he did the rest."

Coming into the game, there were questions about Roethlisberger's passing hand, which he hit on a helmet during a loss to New Orleans a week ago. He was on target all game, his right hand bare in the December cold.

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.

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-yard line. Bell ran 13 yards for the touchdown, and Roethlisberger's completion for the conversion gave Pittsburgh a 28-21 lead.

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.


Online: AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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