The Cincinnati Bengals can't win close games in the fourth quarter, so Jeff Blake made sure it was over by the third.
Blake worked over Pittsburgh's patchwork secondary like a longtime pro rather than a second-year starter, throwing three touchdown passes as the Bengals dominated the Steelers, 27-9, Thursday night.
Blake hit each of his three productive wide receivers--Darnay Scott, Tony McGee and Carl Pickens--for touchdowns against a Steeler secondary that clearly misses the injured Rod Woodson. All three scores came with Woodson's replacement, Alvoid Mays, in coverage.
"But if Rod Woodson were playing, we still would have gone deep," said Blake, who was coming off probably his worst NFL game in a loss to Tampa Bay. "We worked long and hard to pick up Pittsburgh's blitzes, and everything worked to perfection. Even if they had stopped us and stopped us, we would have kept going deep."
Scott, McGee and Pickens are all on a pace for 1,000-yard receiving seasons, a feat achieved only twice in NFL history. Pickens finished with eight catches for 108 yards.
Cincinnati (3-4) hadn't beaten Pittsburgh (3-4) in eight games--or since the Chuck Noll era--and had never before won an AFC Central road game in David Shula's three-plus seasons as coach.
"This is big, this is huge," Bengal tackle Joe Walter said. "This was our biggest win in I don't know how long. To win on the road, to win in Pittsburgh, this is big time."
The Steelers' fourth loss in five games, however, signals a low point for Coach Bill Cowher. They haven't been under .500 so late in a season since Noll's final season as coach in 1991, and had so dominated Cincinnati that the Bengals hadn't scored more than 16 points against them since 1990.
"I don't want to take any credit away from them, but the blame belongs inside this room," Steeler safety Darren Perry said.
"We just can't score, we're kicking field goals or not even doing that," Pittsburgh running back Bam Morris said. "It's frustrating, and we've got to start getting it right."
The Bengals had lost four in a row this season, three in the fourth quarter by a combined nine points, but Blake still predicted to a TV crew he would throw five touchdown passes and no interceptions.
He might have too, if the Bengals hadn't opened a 24-6 lead in the third quarter on Blake's 41-yard touchdown pass play to Pickens, allowing him to then keep the ball on the ground.
Blake threw scoring passes of 12 yards to McGee and 47 yards to Scott in the second quarter.
Blake completed 18 of 22 passes for 275 yards and wasn't sacked or intercepted by a defense that led the NFL in both categories last season.
Pittsburgh's problems became so acute in the fourth quarter, they were even penalized again for having too many men on the field on a field-goal attempt.
Referee Gordon McCarter's crew was disciplined and Cowher was fined $7,500 for his outburst when the same penalty was incorrectly assessed in the Steelers' 44-24 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 24. But this time the call was accurate.