6:55 p.m.: As you walk around in the press box, you see a lot of people and there are two types, generally: Ones that have the rectangular credentials that allow you access to the press box, locker room and access to the field with two minutes or left in the game. There are other folks with oval-shaped credentials, that allow them press box access and full field access. Here's the question: why would anyone want field access tonight.
Man, it is really cold and windy. Give it up for the fans who sit in this stuff, and there are a smattering of them here 90 minutes from kickoff, but it's going to be a rough night in the seats. Especially if the snow comes as is expected. The NFL Network crew is here, Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders. They are set up at the open end of the field, facing the river. Goodness that's cold, too. Looks nice to have the Heinz Field backdrop, though. Brrrrr.
As usual, we want to hear from you tonight. It's what makes this blog stay lively, though I promise to do my part, too. On paper, this should be a gimme, bringing the Steelers to and 8-3 mark and 9 days off before traveling to play the Patriots. On the other hand, the way the offense has looked lately, one never knows about this team.
No Chad Ocho Cinco tonight because he knuckleheaded his way into Marvin Lewis' doghouse. He's cero-cero tonight. I'll be back in a bit with inactives and other notes.
7:07 p.m.: Here are tonight's inactive players. Pittsburgh: CB Bryant McFadden, CB Deshea Townsend, CB Roy Lewis, LB Bruce Davis, OL Tony Hills, OT Marvel Smith, DE Orpheus Roye, QB Dennis Dixon (3rd QB); Cincinnati: S Chinedum Ndukwe, LB/DE Eric Henderson, OG/OT Scott Kooistra, OT Levi Jones, OG Andrew Whitworth, WR Chad Ocho Cinco, DE Antwan Odom, QB Carson Palmer (3rd QB).
Could you imagine playing the Bengals a couple years ago or so and catching the break of having Carson Palmer and
Chad Johnson (at least that's who he was back then) on the bench? And for the Steelers, look at that list of inactives, add to it Rashard Mendenhall's season-ending injury, and you see how little this draft class has contributed. WR Limas Sweed is it for tonight. They can't get Bruce Davis or Tony Hills on the field. Wonder how that bodes down the road?
7:24 p.m.: A poster asked about the wind, as usual, it swirls inside this stadium. But it's fairly strong left-to-right as you look at the Bengals bench, or east side of the stadium. If the logo at the 50 is right side up, then it's a crosswind left-to-right.
7:40 p.m.: There is a request for more in-game updates from tonight's game because as one poster said it's not on TV for many people. I generally do about 40 game updates, but will keep that in mind. And I'm not allowed to blog play-by-play because NFL policy prohibits that and besides, I couldn't keep up.
For those of you who do not have NFL Network, or if your cable company isn't showing the game, a reminder that it's on WPCW, or The CW, too. Most folks have that on their cable or satellite systems and it is a UHF station. You might want to check your listings on the TV to see if you get the station. Then you can watch the game. But I'll be able to update some here, and will be happy to do that.
7:54 p.m.: Nice ceremony going on now honoring Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for 50 years of on-field service in the NFL as a player and coach. Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II and NFL Director of Football Operations and Special Projects Mike Kensil presented LeBeau with an award. After the ceremony and LeBeau's words of thanks for the award, the entire Steelers defense greeted their leader. Tremendous amount of respect for this man from his players. And I hope I look that good at 71.
As for the weather, no snow yet and the temperatures are in the upper 20s with a bit of wind. It will not be a pleasant night, but if the snow does not come in, it won't be so bad.
8:15 p.m.: We're about 10 minutes from kickoff and Cincinnati has won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. The Steelers will receive and will go right-to-left on the TV screen. Game time temp is 32, wind chill temp is 23. No snow and a bit of breeze.
8:16 p.m.: Well, we were about a minute away from kickoff. The stadium is half full and people are streaming in as the game begins. Lots of traffic out there, too. It's a late-arriving crowd, a la Dodgers games.
8:20 p.m.: One near-pick, one drop and it's punt city. And not a good punt at all by Paul Ernster. That was a 33-yard punt and the Bengals are in business at the 31. By the way, nice play by Matt Spaeth to break up what was probably an interception on that offensive series. Let's see if the defense can get a turnover. I see we have a fan in Germany joining us. Armed forces?
8:29 p.m.: Big third down here as they tend to Frostee Rucker, one of the great names in any sport. Sounds like it could be a dancer. Anyhow, Parker seems a bit tentative when he runs, which isn't what the offense needs right now. He had some room on that first down to get more than a yard, but stutter-stepped into the hole. Holmes stops the route on that play. He and Roethlisberger don't seem on the same page. And another brutal punt by Ernster. They catch a break with the penalty. Wow, a 28-yard punt. Awful.
8:38 p.m.: Looks like a nice drive by the Bengals. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a solid QB and the O-Line is giving him some time. Nice and steady plays by the Bengals. Taking advantage of the decent field position. Now a penalty on Chris Hoke gives them a second and short at the 15. No one is worried yet, but come on, you have to hold these guys to 3 points.
8:42 p.m.: Fernando Bryant was right there, but a step late, which is murder in this league. Nice play by Fitzpatrick to laser that ball in there to Glenn Holt. That looked pretty easy and unless this offense gets off its behind and starts to do something, the Bengals are going to get some momentum here. Remember, these guys did play the Eagles to a tie. Maybe this won't be the breather everyone thinks it will be. With 3:08 left in the first quarter, Bengals 7, Steelers 0.
8:49 p.m.: Brutal 3rd-down pass by Ben and the offense continues to sputter. Two first downs in three possessions. And on that last pass, Darnell Stapleton is lucky he didn't get nailed for holding. Offense continues to look out of sync. Nice run by Gary Russell on the kick return, but it's turned into nothing. Looks like the Steelers will go another quarter without a TD that would make eight over the last two games-plus.
8:51 p.m.: You can make that eight quarters in a row without at TD for the offense. End of first quarter, Bengals 7, Steelers 0.
8:55 p.m.: As that brutal punt by Kyle Larson was wobbling out of bounds, a press box scribe said, "is that Ernster?" Got a pretty good laugh. So much for that good field position. Welcome back to the lineup, Heath Miller with the holding call.l
8:58 p.m.: Gary Russell made that yard, he got hit in the hole and drove through to get a big first down inside the 5. Ben looks better on this series and it's nice to see Limas Sweed get into the action some. Ben's still throwing most stuff short and to me, that says this is what he can comfortable doing. Let's see if the offense can punch it in.
9:02 p.m.: Good play call on that down and distance. Why not throw it when you have Miller back in the lineup and Ward on the field? Two very good short-yardage, goal line guys. That was a nice drive, taking advantage of a short field and overcoming Miller's holding call on first down. The defense has to do it again so the offense can get back out there with momentum. The offensive TD drought is over at eight quarters-plus. Gene Collier tells me 123 minutes, 5 seconds to be exact. With 10:15 left in the second quarter, Steelers 7, Bengals 7.
9:10 p.m.: You have to give James Farrior the gold star on that play, getting through the mess to get to Chris Perry to stop a third-and-1 play. By the way, rookie LT Anthony Collins is more than holding his own against James Harrison. There was some jawing and bumping between the two a couple plays back and Collins did not back down. But all in all, a big stop by the defense to get the offense back out there. Not great field position, but this is how you grab hold of a game, drive it 91 yards.
9:14 p.m.: That cheer you heard is for the appearance of snow. That one is for Carey Davis getting a first down. But the snow is here now, we'll see if it lasts. As for the crowd, there are some empty seats and that could be a weather thing. But that strike to Santonio Holmes made them get loud. Nice drive brewing.
9:18 p.m.: Nice grab by Holmes, who I think snatches the ball better than anyone on this team. The Steelers need for him to be involved because it opens things up for Ward and Miller. The running game tonight isn't looking great, but Ben seems to be warmed up and hitting his targets. Was that a tight end screen I just saw? Two-minute warning.
9:24 p.m.: You'd have liked to have had a TD there, but considering you started at the 9, you'll take the 3. Jeff Reed is just money. He's 17 for 18 this year on FGs. The offensive line is giving Ben nice time. And the shorter patterns and shorter drops help, too. The offense has a bit of life now. With 1:52 left in the second quarter, Steelers 10, Bengals 7.
9:28 p.m.: So much for a sackless game. Woodley gets another to add to his total, giving him 10.5 for the year. OH MY. Knucklehead move of the game by Limas Sweed. I think Holmes was ready to drill him for that one and gave him an earful. That lets the Bengals off the deck a bit now because it sets them up for a possible score and keeps the Steelers from possibly extending the lead. Up to the defense again.
9:37 p.m.: A stop when you needed to have one. They keep relying on the defense to get them out of jams and they keep coming through. Time to pack it in for the half. Halftime, Steelers 10, Bengals 7.
9:50 p.m.: Some halftime stats to chew on: Roethlisberger is 10 for 17 passing, 139 yards, 1 TD and a rating of 104.8. Ryan Fitzpatrick is 11 for 16, 70 yards, a TD and a 98.4 rating. Willie Parker has 14 yards on 11 attempts. Santonio Holmes leads the receivers with 3 catches for 59 yards. James Farrior has nine tackles thus far. The Steelers are 2 of 7 on third-down attempts (29 percent); the Bengals 3 of 8 (38 percent). Time for the second half and the Steelers can go a long way towards winning this game with a three-and-out and a nice offensive drive. We'll see if they can pull that off.
9:59 p.m.: Sweed and Anthony Smith team up to get another penalty. It may be time to look at Sweed's spot on special teams after his performance on the last two punts. And he's pretty banged up on the sidelines, too. As knuckleheaded a play as that was, you don't want to see him injured. If he is, there's no contribution at all from this rookie class. Well the defense did its job, time for the offense to put something together here.
10:00 p.m.: For the record, that was a 50-yard throw. Best I've seen him do in the last 3 games.
10:05 p.m.: Ben made the perfect read on the pass to Holmes, picking him up as the hot receiver. Holmes is more dangerous when he gets into the open like that. Willie Parker seemed to come up a bit lame on that run for a first down. He's not come back yet. That was a helmet hit on Holmes by Chris Crocker. He's lucky he got up from that one. Hell of a way to get 6 yards. Let's see if the NFL fines Crocker for that one. Limas Sweed's return is doubtful with a shoulder injury. For the posters commenting on the draft and the O-line, remember, there had been six top-quality O-Linemen picked by the time the Steelers picked. It was a very good draft at the top for O-line, but not deep.
10:10 p.m.: Ugh, brutal drop by Hines on that one. That's three drops by my count tonight. At least they get a score out of it and give themselves a bit of breathing room. But if Holmes can't come back and Sweed is out, look for a lot of two tight ends the rest of the way, along with Mewelde Moore. With 8:18 left in the third quarter, Steelers 13, Bengals 7.
10:15 p.m.: Word here is Holmes suffered a "blow to the head" and his return is questionable. The defense is starting to take over the game a bit. The offense isn't 100 percent at all now with 2 WRs out and Parker seemingly a bit gimpy. To that point, Moore is in the huddle for the Steelers as they start this series. Time for some type of score to make this a two-possession game.
10:19 p.m.: You know, the penalties just aren't breaking the Steelers way again. It was a pick by Washington on the play and he got caught. That was 42 yards down the drain. A drive killer. By the way, the Bengals have one penalty tonight for 10 yards. Who is going to have a rougher day in film session? Limas Sweed or Paul Ernster. A 34-yard punt. I guess with this defense it doesn't matter. And to the poster who asked about trading up in the draft. That's a good point, but you need a partner. When the Panthers took Pitt's Jeff Otah with the 14th pick, that ran out the top-flight linemen. And trading way up, inside the 14th pick, costs you plenty. The O-line will need addressing in the offseason, but I don't know if last year's draft class was very deep.
10:25 p.m.: Just in case you haven't noticed not only this game, but this year, Aaron Smith is an absolute beast at DE. Harrison, Farrior and Polamalu are having Pro Bowl seasons. Not on a lot of radars, but having the same type of year, is Smith. Sweed is back, but Holmes and Parker are not.
10:32 p.m.: Nice drive, one of the best in the last three games. Having Heath Miller back sure helps, and Gary Russell looks very comfortable as a goal line back. Roethlisberger, physically, looks as good as he has in some time tonight. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the O-line keeping guys off him. If they can keep that up and he gets 9 days between this game and next, maybe he starts to heal a bit. That was Russell's first TD of his career. With :16 left in the third quarter, Steelers 20, Bengals 7.
10:40 p.m.: James Farrior continues to dominate on D. Nice stop on that third-down play. Now, the offense needs to put something together to take the clock from 13:40 to about 5 minutes. Even if it's 3 points, run the clock. The Steelers have dominated time of possession through three quarters, 28-plus minutes to 16-plus minutes. Time to put this away a bit early so they can start their long break before heading to New England.
10:45 p.m.: I never wish ill will on people, but Paul Ernster is so fired next week. That was a 24-yard punt, and I can't believe that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin don't want to look at some punters next week after this performance. I understand the cold weather, but still, you have to do better than 24 yards when you're trying to hold a 13-point lead with most of the fourth quarter to play. Kiesel is dinged, another injury to deal with.
10:50 p.m.: Was that a Bengals penalty? Just askin'. Nice comeback by Fitzpatrick to keep the drive alive. Don't look now, but the Bengals are inside the 20 and there's plenty of time left 9:00.
10:55 p.m.: I don't know how 3 points helps you there at all. You're still two scores down and there's less than 7 minutes. Perhaps they are confident they can stop the Steelers in 3 plays, get the ball back and score. Then do it again. I'm willing to lay money that's not going to happen. By the way, really good job by the Bengals O-line tonight keeping guys off Fitzpatrick. No update yet on Willie Parker, though our Ed Bouchette is asking the Steelers folks here to check on it. We'll get it to you when we hear it. With 6:47 left in the fourth quarter, Steelers 20, Bengals 10.
11 p.m.: Brett Kiesel's return is doubtful. He has a sprained knee. Sweed is trying to make up for some boneheadedness with a very nice catch to keep this drive alive. And did the Bengals defender get the license plate of the truck that ran him over. It's MMoore. If they can keep this drive going, they can wrap it up right here.
11:07 p.m.: Is it just me or do the Steelers linemen never really block on those "screens" to Moore? He seems to blow by them and just make his own way. It looks like a team that's trying to run a screen and doesn't really run one. Maybe that's why they don't run them very often. Maybe they just aren't very good at it.
11:12 p.m.: Vintage Big Ben on that TD run. What it would mean for him to be healthy and play like he's capable. With the defense playing as well as it is, there is no team in the AFC that should be able to dominate them. Better yet, no one in the league. This one's over except for the stats. With 2:15 left in the fourth quarter, Steelers 27, Bengals 10.
11:20 p.m.: Troy Polamalu has a way of ending games, doesn't he? But this one isn't being reviewed. A nice win, and a bit of redemption for the offense in this one. I'm headed to the locker room and I'll be back with some final thoughts. Final score: Steelers 27, Bengals 10.
12:15 p.m.: Some final thoughts from tonight's game and a couple locker room updates:
-- Mike Tomlin said that RB Willie Parker "just tweaked his knee" but added it was premature to say at this point how bad the injury is. After the game, Parker, at his locker, just said, "I'm all right" when asked about the knee. Then he went off to get some treatment on it.
-- RB Gary Russell scored his first TD in last night's game, but after the game he was still looking for the ball he toted into the end zone. Bet here is that one iof the equipment guys will make sure he gets it on Friday.
-- Ben Roethlisberger was 17-for-30 for 243 yards a touchdown and a passer rating of 94.2. Santonio Holmes led the Steelers in receiving with 5 catches for 94 yards before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. Mewelde Moore led the Steelers with 56 yards on 15 carries.
-- Once the Steelers got over a sluggish first quarter, they pretty much took it too the Bengals. They finished with 364 total net yards to the Bengals 208. They outrushed Cincinnati 121-43 and converted 43 percent on third down (6-for-14) to the Bengals 27 percent (4-of-15). The Steelers also dominated the clock, 35:20 to 24:40. The only stats that didn't really fall the Steelers' way were penalties. They had 4 for 40 yards compared to 2 for 15 for the Bengals. And Ernster's punting average was 28.4 on 5 punts. Ugly.
-- What's next. A few days off for the Steelers before they begin prepping for the game at New England. This is the start of a stretch run that is going to determine if they can win the division and where they can get seeded in the playoffs. Here's the lineup: Nov. 30 at New England; Dec. 7 Dallas at Heinz; Dec. 14 at Baltimore; Dec. 21 at Tennessee; Dec. 28 Cleveland at Heinz. Pick up the two home games as wins and you finish 10-6. That's likely good enough to win the division. But the game to circle is Baltimore on Dec. 14. If the Steelers can get that one, they will have the tiebreaker over the one team in the division that will challenge them. But first things first. They need to get ready to play the Patriots.
OK, that's it for tonight. I really appreciate the comments on the blog. We'll update when we get a bit more to discuss. Should be a big weekend of games. One to watch: Philly at Baltimore. Big one for a lot of reasons.