BY JOE KAY
CINCINNATI (AP) — Linebacker Ryan Shazier stayed overnight in a hospital with a back injury while the rest of the Steelers headed home with yet another improbable comeback in hand, one that was so much like all the rest at Paul Brown Stadium.
Nasty. Ugly. Way over the edge. And ultimately, a Steelers win.
Antonio Brown caught a game-tying 6-yard touchdown pass while taking a hit to the head — one of many that crossed the line — and Chris Boswell kicked a 38-yard field goal on the final play Monday night for a 23-20 victory over the stunned-again Bengals.
The Steelers (10-2) extended their best start since 2004 and remained tied with New England for best record in the AFC. They’ll play in Pittsburgh in two weeks, a game that could decide home-field advantage for the playoffs.
For now, their biggest concern is Shazier, who is the leading tackler in one of the NFL’s top defenses. He hurt his back while making a tackle in the first quarter and was taken off the field on a cart. He got tests at a local hospital that indicated no surgery was needed “at this time,” the team said in a statement.
Coach Mike Tomlin visited him after the game. The Steelers were hopeful that Shazier would return to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“Right now, we’re just happy that he’s getting the necessary medical attention that he deserves,” Tomlin said.
It was the most frightening injury in a game full of vicious and illegal hits. Thousands of dollars will be handed out in fines by the league later in the week.
The Bengals (5-7) blew a 17-point lead in their latest meltdown against their Ohio River rival, one that essentially ended their playoff hopes. It was typical of their self-destruction whenever they play the Steelers. Cincinnati managed only 13 yards in the fourth quarter while the Steelers completed their comeback. The Bengals had a team-record 173 yards in penalties.
In some ways, it was reminiscent of the Bengals’ implosion during the 2015 playoff game that helped the Steelers rally for an 18-16 win on Boswell’s field goal in the closing seconds.
“It has the feel of when we lost the playoff game,” said safety George Iloka, who hit Brown in the head on his tying touchdown catch. “It’s frustrating to not get the end result we want, year after year.”
Some takeaways from the Steelers’ latest improbable yet familiar win at Paul Brown Stadium:
SHAZIER’S OUTLOOK: The Steelers will have a challenging time replacing Shazier. Pittsburgh has given up a lot of big plays lately, but overcome it by getting sacks and turnovers, with Shazier leading the charge.
“When we need a big play, he’s one of the guys we look to,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “It’s going to be tough.”
STEELERS BIG NUMBERS: After being bottled up in the first half, the Steelers’ playmakers has their way. Brown played on an injured toe that forced him to sit out practice last week and had eight catches for 101 yards. Le’Veon Bell ran for 76 yards and caught five passes for 106 yards, the first time that he and Brown had more than 100 yards receiving in the same game. Ben Roethlisberger was 24 of 40 for 290 yards, making him the eighth in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards career. He joins Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, John Elway and Eli Manning.
OWN THE BENGALS: The Steelers have won six straight and nine of 10 against Cincinnati, including that playoff game. So many of them have followed the same script — Cincinnati plays well at the outset, the Steelers find a way to pull it out at the end — that nothing is really surprising anymore.
“It’s sort of the best reality TV show out there — better than the Kardashians,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said.
BURFICT CARTED OFF, TOO: Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been in the middle of much of the ugliness in the rivalry. His hit to Brown’s head set up the Steelers’ winning field goal in the 2015 playoff and drew a three-game suspension. He’s kept up the feud on Twitter with Bell, who grabbed his facemask and pushed him down in the first half Monday, drawing a penalty.
In the second half, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled Burfict with a high hit and then stood over him, drawing a penalty. Burfict was taken off on a cart and was in concussion protocol.
“I didn’t mean to stand over him,” Smith-Schuster said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I hope he’s OK and I hope he gets better.”
BENGALS’ GRIM FUTURE: A large banner in the upper deck read: “Opportunity Knocks Again.” And again, the Bengals blew it. They needed to win to have any realistic chance at the playoffs. Now, they’ve started the conversation in Cincinnati about whether coach Marvin Lewis will be back for a 16th season and whether other major changes are needed. They still haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.
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