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Steelers keep control of North with another Cincinnati win
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By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI (AP) The defending champions have been eliminated. An AFC North title is now one victory away for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are on their best regular-season surge in seven years.
Chris Boswell tied the club record with six field goals, and Ben Roethlisberger threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass for a 24-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday that left Pittsburgh in control of the division.
The Steelers (9-5) can win the title by beating the Ravens (8-6) at Heinz Field next Sunday.
"A lot of guys are treating this like it's the playoffs already," linebacker Ryan Shazier said.
The Bengals (5-8-1) can start thinking about the offseason instead of the postseason. They tied their franchise record with 12 victories last season, lost to the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium with a last-minute collapse, and never looked like the same team this time around.
"It is hard because I feel like I've not found the right buttons to push to get us to where we need to be," said coach Marvin Lewis, who is under contract through 2017. "It's my job to figure out why we don't get it to where it needs to be. We've been short."
Boswell had just enough to get his kicks through a gusting wind. He was good from 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards.
"He needs no endorsement from me," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Shoot, I just gave him the game ball."
Some takeaways from the Steelers' latest win in Cincinnati:
KICK-6: Gary Anderson (1988 vs. Denver) and Jeff Reed (2002 vs. Jacksonville) also kicked six field goals for the Steelers, who beat the Broncos 39-21 and the Jaguars 25-23 in those contests.
"They didn't look pretty, they didn't go over by much, but they went in," Boswell said.
The kicker also dived and tripped Alex Erickson on a 72-yard kickoff return, preventing a touchdown.
"I just dove and hit something and he went down," Boswell said.
5 STRAIGHT: The Steelers have won five consecutive regular-season games for the first time since 2009. In addition to a balanced offense and an accurate kicker, they've gotten steely play out of their defense, which has held each of the last five opponents to 100 yards rushing or less, Pittsburgh's best such streak in four years. The Bengals managed only 76 yards on the ground, including 18 in the second half.
"It's like we felt we wanted it more," Shazier said.
TEMPERS, TEMPERS: Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones were flagged on Sunday - the linebacker for tackling Roethlisberger after he got rid of the ball, the cornerback for taunting. Cincinnati got three personal fouls, including one on tackle Pat Sims that aided Pittsburgh's touchdown drive. Pittsburgh got one personal foul.
DROUGHT CONTINUES: The Bengals lost in the opening round of the playoffs each of the last five seasons, a playoff record. Their elimination from playoff contention extends their futility. They haven't won a postseason game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest drought in NFL history.
"We're so used to the past five years of going to the playoffs every year," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "It's the first time we haven't in a long time, and it hurts. It really hurts me."
INJURIES: Steelers: DE Stephon Tuitt had a facemask penalty against Andy Dalton that extended Cincinnati's opening field goal drive. He also injured his right knee on the drive and didn't return. ... TE Ladarius Green caught a 28-yard pass on the final drive and then went to the locker room to be tested for a concussion. ... Bengals WR A.J. Green was inactive for the fourth straight game with a strained right hamstring. He returned to practice on a limited basis last week and hopes to play in one of the two final games.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated December 18, 2016