Pittsburgh knocks out Palmer, then Bengals


Steelers running back Jerome Bettis (36) celebrates with Hines Ward after Bettis scored on a five-yard run in the third quarter against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker David Pollack is at left.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
CINCINNATI - A low hit on Carson Palmer changed everything.
Steelers nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen dived at Cincinnati's Pro Bowl quarterback on his first pass Sunday, hitting Palmer at the knee and knocking him out of the game with a torn ligament before Pittsburgh rolled to a 31-17 victory that set up a rematch with the AFC's top team.
Pittsburgh (12-5) will play in Indianapolis next Sunday, a chance to show how far it's come in the past month. The Steelers lost at the RCA Dome 27-7 on Nov. 28, when coach Bill Cowher started the second half with a failed onside kick that seemed a sign of desperation at the time.
"We're the underdogs going into their place," said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes. "Now we get to see what we can do."
Defending Super Bowl champion New England will play in Denver on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh was in jeopardy of not making the playoffs after a 38-31 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field put Cincinnati in line for the AFC North title. The Steelers won their last four to get in as a wild card, and kept the momentum going against their up-and-coming rival.
The Bengals (11-6) had boasted after winning in Pittsburgh that they were now the team to beat in the division. Given a chance to prove it with their first playoff appearance in 15 years, they lapsed into some old-style bungling with their leader gone.
"We had that letdown, we didn't get that (second-half) field goal and it kind of deflated us," said Jon Kitna, who took over for Palmer and spent most of his time scrambling. "We never recovered from that."
In his second playoff go-round, Roethlisberger was coolly efficient - 14-of-19 for 208 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, a vast improvement over his rookie postseason.
"Last year, everything was new to Ben," said receiver Hines Ward, who had a 5-yard touchdown catch. "Tonight, he was pretty crisp. The intangibles that he brings, I like a lot."
The crowd of 65,870 erupted, then went sickeningly silent on the Bengals' first pass play - one that went down as the longest in Cincinnati playoff history, and the costliest.
Palmer held onto the ball a second longer than usual, allowing rookie Chris Henry to get open down the right sideline for a 66-yard reception. As the ball left Palmer's hand, a falling von Oelhoffen drove his shoulder into the quarterback's left knee.
Even though Palmer wears a protective brace on the knee, it bowed inward, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Palmer seemed to know it was serious when he was taken off on a cart, a grim expression on his face.
"You watch it happen, my thoughts and prayers go out to Carson," Roethlisberger said. "You could see Kimo was stumbling going down. He's not that kind of player. Carson's a great player. Any time you lose a great player like him, it's devastating."
Now, it was up to Palmer's mentor to get it done. He couldn't.
Kitna led the Bengals to an 8-8 finish in coach Marvin Lewis' first season, then took a back seat to Palmer the last two seasons. He played sparingly this season and was understandably rusty in a 37-3 loss to Kansas City last week.
Kitna, one of only 13 Bengals with playoff experience, kept the Bengals in it until their inexperience and lack of a Pro Bowl quarterback started to show in the third quarter.
First, the Bengals botched a field goal attempt because of a high snap. Then, Kitna knocked the ball out of his own hand while scrambling, scuttling a drive. Finally, a shanked 30-yard punt - something out of the old Bungles days - put the Steelers in position to take control.
Three plays later, they used a little sleight-of-snap to do just that.
Antwaan Randle El took a direct snap in front of Roethlisberger, ran to his right, turned and threw the ball back to the quarterback. Cedrick Wilson was 10 yards beyond the confused coverage for his 43-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers up 28-17.
That was it. The Steelers never let the Bengals get close again, harassing Kitna with a variety of blitzes that left him scrambling around the field. He finished 24-of-40 for 197 yards with two interceptions and four sacks.

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