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Behind Ben and Bell, Steelers drub Bengals 42-21 and turn AFC North back into 4-team race

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CINCINNATI — Ben Roethlisberger faked a handoff, retreated into his end zone, held the ball long enough for rookie Martavis Bryant to run past the cornerback, and then let it fly.

The throw was perfect.

The Bengals were finished — for the day, and maybe more.

Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns, including a 94-yarder to Bryant as the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled away to a 42-21 victory on Sunday that turned the AFC North back into a totally wide-open division.

All four teams are within 1 1/2 games with three to play.

The Steelers (8-5) needed a win to stay in the race. They got it with the help of big games by Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell, who scored three touchdowns.

"We have a great opportunity in front of us, so I'm going to embrace it," said Bell, who ran for 185 yards and had six catches for 50 yards. "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) saw their division lead slip to a half-game over the Steelers and Ravens. Instead of pulling away, they find themselves just trying to hold on.

Cincinnati has lost to division rivals Cleveland (7-6) and Pittsburgh by 21 points in each in its last two home games. The Bengals haven't lost consecutive home games by 21 points since 2002 under Dick LeBeau, who is the Steelers' defensive coordinator.

Andy Dalton's fumble started the Steelers toward a 25-point rally in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh piled up piled up 543 yards overall, 229 of them in the fourth quarter.

PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) runs past Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant (10) runs past Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Not even a huge game by A.J. Green — 11 catches for a career-high 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown — was enough to keep it close. Pittsburgh got its most lopsided victory in Cincinnati since 2008.

"This is like playoff football now," Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "That is December in the NFL. Everyone is upset about this game. This team has a number of leaders. We will get this figured out."

Things learned in Pittsburgh's blowout win:

BEN'S BACK: After three subpar games, Roethlisberger was back in form. He hit his throwing hand on a player and had numbness in his fingers during a loss to New Orleans, but threw accurately with his bare right hand on a cold afternoon. Roethlisberger improved to 18-4 in his home state — 8-2 in Cleveland, 10-2 in Cincinnati.

CAN'T KEEP UP WITH BELL: Bell has totaled more than 200 yards rushing and receiving in each of his last three games, joining Walter Payton as the only players to put together such a streak.

"Le'Veon is the best back in the NFL," Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said. "I don't know that there is another one out there playing like he is right now."

DALTON'S BIG MISTAKE: Dalton set a club record with a 20-yard touchdown run, the longest scoring run by a Bengals quarterback. He faked a handoff to Jeremy Hill, and the Steelers let him run untouched to the end zone. When he tried another fake to Hill in the fourth quarter, he lost hold of the ball. The fumble started Pittsburgh's big comeback.

"At that point, they get points off the turnover, scored a touchdown, and then they scored pretty quick after that," Dalton said. "You can't have a play like that at that point in the game."

REST OF THE WAY: Cincinnati plays at Cleveland, hosts Denver on a Monday night, then finishes in Pittsburgh. The Steelers play at Atlanta before hosting Kansas City and Cincinnati. Baltimore hosts Jacksonville, plays at Houston, and hosts the Browns. Cleveland hosts Cincinnati and finishes the season at Jacksonville and Baltimore.

INJURIES: Cornerback Ike Taylor, who was matched on Green, played with an injured right shoulder and left knee until the fourth quarter, when coach Mike Tomlin decided he couldn't keep up. ... Steelers linebacker James Harrison was inactive because of a sore knee, depriving him of a chance to play against his team from last season.


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