CINCINNATI — BenJarvus Green-Ellis got Cincinnati's running game going and led the Bengals on a touchdown drive for a 7-3 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers after the first quarter on Sunday night.
Green-Ellis carried eight times for 44 yards on the Bengals' first possession, converting a third down and a fourth-and-1 to keep the 80-yard drive alive. Cedric Peerman carried the final 5 yards against the NFL's fifth-ranked defense.
It was a breakout drive for the Bengals, who haven't been able to get anything consistently on the ground this season.
Both teams needed a win to stay close to AFC North leader Baltimore (5-2, which lost 43-13 at Houston earlier Sunday. The Steelers and Bengals both came in with three losses.
The Steelers were in a bad way with injuries that cost them their top running backs and two offensive linemen. The NLF's 31st-ranked running game was missing Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, as well as center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Rookie Mike Adams made his first start in Gilbert's spot.
Plus, safety Troy Polamalu was inactive for the fourth time in the last five games with a calf injury.
That put a lot on Ben Roethlisberger, who usually does well in his home state — 14-2 all-time in Cleveland and Cincinnati — but has rarely been so short-handed. He completed his first three passes in a game-opening drive that ended when Mike Wallace dropped a perfect third-down throw inside the Cincinnati 15-yard line. Shaun Suisham's 42-yard field goal made it 3-0.
The Steelers compensated for their depleted running game by throwing short receiver screens and running a reverse with Wallace. Jonathan Dwyer started at running back and had 8 yards on two carries in the drive.
For the Bengals, it was a chance to show they can finally match up against the division's best. They lost to Baltimore 44-13 in the season opener on Monday Night Football, leaving them 0-5 the last two seasons against the Ravens and Steelers.
Like the Steelers, the Bengals have struggled to run the ball, but came out committed to getting Green-Ellis going. He had carries of 12 and 14 yards to get the drive going. Coach Marvin Lewis went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 21, and Green-Ellis got a yard up the middle.
Cincinnati also got a break on the drive when Andy Dalton's pass went off the hands of A.J. Green and deflected off two Steelers defenders before falling incomplete, avoiding an interception.