PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Cincinnati Bengals looked at their prime-time visit to Pittsburgh as a chance to make a statement about their legitimacy as AFC contenders.
In one sense, the Bengals fit right in.
Just like Denver and New England earlier in the weekend, Cincinnati let a chance to take firm control of its playoff fate disappear against a scuffling rival.
Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score in a 64-second span in the first quarter and the Steelers jumped on the Bengals early in a 30-20 victory Sunday night.
Given a chance to all but clinch the AFC North and move into the No. 2 spot behind Denver in the AFC, the Bengals (9-5) let Pittsburgh race to a 21-0 lead and never recovered.
"It's tough, for sure, because we had everything in front of us," Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green said. "We could have had ourselves set up in a great position if we could have come out here and won today."
Green finished with nine receptions for 93 yards, but the Bengals didn't make much happen downfield. Cincinnati's longest play was 19 yards, preventing the Bengals from making speedy inroads on the Steelers (6-8) after falling behind so quickly.
Andy Dalton completed 25 of 44 passes for 230 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but Cincinnati's only chance to draw within one score ended when Dalton's 2-point conversion was batted down with 5:51 remaining.
"There's no panic," Dalton said. "There's no worry about anything. We're not frantic. We still have two games at home and have everything to accomplish, so we've got to take care of our business."
Shaun Suisham added three field goals for Pittsburgh, which built a 24-point lead and hardly looked like a team playing out the string.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Le'Veon Bell added 117 yards of total offence and a touchdown.
"I have said for a bunch of weeks now that there is going to be no quit from me or from anybody," Roethlisberger said. "I thought tonight was a good example of that."
Looking to move closer to a third straight playoff berth, the Bengals were undone by a series of miscues on special teams.
Bell scored two plays after Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber dropped a snap while standing near the goal line after the Bengals' first possession. Pittsburgh's Will Allen dropped Huber at the 1 and Bell bulled into the end zone on second down for his sixth touchdown of the season.
Cincinnati's issues continued on the ensuing kickoff.
Officials ruled Cedric Peerman called for a fair catch at the Cincinnati 9, wiping out a lengthy return. The Bengals eventually punted, setting up the Steelers with a short field. Pittsburgh went 47 yards in eight plays, with Roethlisberger buying enough time for Brown to get open for a 12-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-0.
Brown's early work wasn't done. Cincinnati punted yet again and Brown took it 67 yards right up the middle, breaking a tackle at midfield on his way to the second punt return for a score in his four-year career for Pittsburgh's third touchdown of the quarter.
Huber took a hard hit from Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin during the return. Huber was down on the field for several minutes before walking straight to the Cincinnati locker room with a fractured jaw. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent took over Huber's punting duties.
Pittsburgh extended its lead to 24-0 before the Bengals steadied themselves with a 47-yard touchdown drive capped by Giovani Bernard's 1-yard run. The Steelers responded late in the half with Suisham's 45-yard field goal by to give them their biggest halftime lead of the season.
Suisham's third field goal pushed Pittsburgh's advantage to 30-7 before the Bengals responded with Dalton's 1-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert.
Dalton later found Marvin Jones for a 13-yard score on fourth-and-5 with 5:51 to play, but Pittsburgh rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones got his hands on Dalton's conversion attempt to keep it a two-score game.
The Bengals got the ball back one more time, and Dalton's long heave to Green on fourth down fell incomplete.
"It was a snowball effect," Cincinnati centre Kyle Cook said. "It's tough when you're all bundled up like that to start the game, and then the next thing you know you're down 21-0. So, that makes it tough to get going and come back from that deficit."
NOTES: The crowd of 45,873 was the smallest in the 13-year history of Heinz Field. ... Brown caught five passes for 66 yards and a score and now has 95 receptions on the season, tied for second-most in team history. ... Bengals linebacker James Harrison, making his first appearance in Pittsburgh since leaving the Steelers to sign with Cincinnati in the off-season, left in the first quarter with a concussion.