A bitter rivalry came to an end on a "trick" play that left a bitter pill lodged in the Pittsburgh Steelers' throats. They choked on it Monday night in front of 54,283 soaked-to-the-skin fans in Riverfront Stadium who cheered their Cincinnati Bengals to a 24-22 win.
The pill has two weeks to dissolve. When the AFC Central Division rivals meet again Oct. 26, the Steelers will likely have an answer for a game-winning mad dash by a punter.
Jeff Hayes' fake punt turned into a real touchdown with 1:13 gone in the fourth quarter and the Steelers holding a 19-14 lead.
The 61-yard run left the prideful Pittsburgh defense with little left but frustration and more bitter words.
"As I came off the field some guy from Pittsburgh, No. 62 I think, said, 'Boy, that tees me off that you guys won on a play like that,' " Bengal Coach Sam Wyche said.
"Well, a win is a win. I just think, 'Fellas, with seven points, you gotta cover your flanks.' "
The words came to Wyche courtesy of Steeler offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin. His frustration is compounded by a glance at the AFC Central Division standings, which show the 1-5 Steelers warming the celler and the 4-2 Bengals tied with the Cleveland Browns for first.
The Pittsburgh defense, once feared as the Steel Curtain, was more like the torn curtain on the fake punt.
The Steelers were looking to block the punt, as they did in the first quarter. With the defense sucked in, Hayes ran around one player and surprised everyone with his speed.
"The contain people didn't get up the field," Steeler Coach Chuck Noll said. 'There's no way he should have been able to run . . . how many yards was that?"
"It was a called play all the way," Hayes said. "I just had to get around one guy (Anthony Henton) and I had it."
Hayes' touchdown, Jim Breech's 40-yard field goal and Gary Anderson's 44 yard-field goal for the Steelers all came in the fourth quarter after a dull and scoreless third quarter of a Monday night game that finished early Tuesday morning.
It wasn't that way in the first half, when turnovers led to two touchdowns.
The Steelers fumbled away the ball on their second possession and the Bengals wasted no time in taking advantage. Boomer Esiason, with excellent protection, threw to Rodney Holman at the seven, where Holman turned and ran it in for the touchdown.
Breech's extra point was good and the 7-0 lead with 4:24 gone in the first quarter was enough to make the fans cheer for something other than a letup in the chilling rain.
Pittsburgh mounted its first sustained drive on the next possession. After two false starts--Walter Abercrombie getting just one yard on the left side and a screen pass from Steeler quarterback Bubby Brister to Abercrombie that bounced off the running back's hands--the Steelers put together their longest pass play of the season.
In the pocket and pressured, Brister stepped up and threw a pass off the wrong foot to wide receiver Calvin Sweeney. The play was good for 58 yards and put the Steelers on the Bengal 12-yard line.
After two running plays that went for a total of three yards, and an incomplete pass, the Steelers set up for a 26-yard field goal attempt, which Anderson missed.
The Steelers scored on their next series. Brister carried it in from the one to cap a 5-play, 23-yard drive that took 2 minutes 9 seconds.
It was 7-7 with 5:23 left in the first quarter and Pittsburgh seemingly gaining momentum.
The Steelers got nowhere on their next two possessions.