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Dec 28, 2014 9:15 PM

Steelers, Bengals tied at 7 after first quarter

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) Antonio Brown returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown for Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton hit Giovanni Bernard for a 17-yard score as the Steelers and Bengals were tied at 7 after the first quarter of their AFC North showdown Sunday night.

Brown fielded the punt from Kevin Huber at the Pittsburgh 29 and raced to his right only to reverse back to his left, pushing teammate Shamarko Thomas into Huber's way to clear a path to the end zone. His third career punt return for a score gave the Steelers early momentum as they tried to capture their first division title since 2010.

Cincinnati evened it later in the first. Dalton overcame a poorly overthrown interception on Cincinnati's second possession by converting a fourth-and-3 with a 14-yard pass to Brandon Tate then following it up with a nifty flip to Bernard after escaping the pass rush. Bernard leapt over two Steelers before reaching over the goal line.

The winner will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and will host Baltimore next weekend, while the loser will play at Indianapolis.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger skipped his usual pregame warmup, not coming on to the field until the defense was being introduced just minutes before the kickoff while dealing with flu-like symptoms. He did not miss a snap.

The Steelers played without safety Troy Polamalu, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Cornerback Ike Taylor was also made inactive, forcing Pittsburgh to send out a patchwork secondary to try and slow down Green, who had a career-high 224 yards in the team's first meeting on Dec. 7.

Pittsburgh survived by throwing up 25 straight points in a 42-21 win then followed it up with two steady if not spectacular performances against Atlanta and Kansas City to clinch a playoff spot after a two-year absence. Yet the Steelers stressed all week they preferred to start the postseason at home and were hoping to get a shot at the tacky hat and T-shirts that come with a division title, items that have piled up in Cincinnati's lockers since Pittsburgh's last won the North in 2010.

The Bengals have led the division nearly all season. Pittsburgh's emphatic victory hardly rattled Cincinnati. The Bengals responded by drilling Johnny Manziel and the Browns and upsetting Peyton Manning and Denver at home on Monday night to earn a postseason berth for a fourth straight year for the first time in franchise history.


Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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