Steelers take out Cincinnati, 28-17

Alan Robinson and Alan Robinson

Two starts, two victories. Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers probably never thought it would come this easy after being told how hard it is for a young quarterback to win in the NFL.

Roethlisberger, showing uncommon poise for a rookie who wasn’t expected to play this season, twice rallied the Steelers and Duce Staley ran for 123 yards in a 28-17 victory yesterday over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Roethlisberger went 17 of 25 for 174 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions to easily better Carson Palmer in a head-to-head QB duel that may be repeated for years in the AFC North. Palmer drove the Bengals to touchdowns on their opening drives of each half, but ended the game with consecutive interceptions, giving him seven interceptions in four starts.

Palmer’s former Southern Cal roommate, Troy Polamalu, finished off the Bengals (1-3) with a 26-yard interception return touchdown late in the game. Jerome Bettis had given the Steelers a 21-17 lead with just over nine minutes remaining with his second short-range touchdown.

The Steelers are 3-1 for the second time in four seasons and are 2-0 since Roethlisberger became the starter when Tommy Maddox injured his right elbow. Maddox isn’t due back until next month at the earliest.

While Roethlisberger was steady, Palmer (20 of 37, 164 yards, two interceptions) alternately showed why the Bengals drafted him No. 1 last year and why he still has some maturing to do.

Palmer went 4-for-4 for 37 yards on third downs, including an 11-yarder to T.J. Houshmandzadeh on third-and-10 ahead of Rudi Johnson’s 2-yard touchdown run that put the Bengals up 17-14 early in the third.

But with the Bengals in position to beat a winning-record team on the road for the first time in 42 games, a streak that dates to a December 1990 victory in Pittsburgh, they twice couldn’t finish drives that could have made the difference.

Staley’s second fumble gave the Bengals the ball, but Kenny Watson fumbled on third-and-3 after being hit by Larry Foote and James Farrior recovered at the Steelers 32.

The Steelers went three-and-out, but again the Bengals couldn’t convert after advancing to the Pittsburgh 40. The Steelers then drove 89 yards for Bettis’ go-ahead score.

The Bengals also couldn’t hold a 7-0 lead after Staley’s first fumble led to Jeremi Johnson’s touchdown on a 2-yard pass midway through the first quarter _ the Cincinnati offense’s first touchdown in 32 possessions over three games.

The Steelers, taking consecutive games for the first time since winning their final three to close the 2002 regular season, quickly answered. Roethlisberger’s 30-yard completion to Plaxico Burress set up Bettis’ 2-yard touchdown run. Bettis, the No. 6 rusher in NFL history, has five touchdowns despite gaining only 22 yards on 18 carries this season.

On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Roethlisberger hit Burress for 16 yards and Antwaan Randle El for 20 ahead of his 11-yard scoring pass to backup running back Verron Haynes _ Haynes’ first career touchdown.

The Bengals played much of the game without cornerback Rashad Bauman and starting safety Rogers Beckett, both of whom left early with possible concussions.