Steelers put hurt on Bengals, 31-17
By JOE KAY
By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI — Carson Palmer stood his ground and held the ball an extra second, waiting for rookie Chris Henry to run past a defender and get open.
That one second changed everything.
Steelers nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen, of Moloka'i, dived at Palmer on his first pass yesterday, hitting Palmer at the knee and knocking the Pro Bowl quarterback out of the game with a torn ligament.
Pittsburgh took advantage of his absence, harassing backup Jon Kitna and rolling to a 31-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that set up a rematch with the AFC's top team.
The Steelers (12-5) will play in Indianapolis on Sunday, a chance to show how far they've come in the past month. Pittsburgh lost at the RCA Dome, 26-7, on Nov. 28, when coach Bill Cowher started the second half with a failed onside kick that seemed to be a sign of desperation.
"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.
The Bengals (11-6) will spend an offseason reliving the play that effectively scuttled their first playoff appearance in 15 years — and could have a longer-lasting impact. Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that requires surgery and months of tough rehabilitation. The Bengals are hoping he's recovered by training camp in July.
The Bengals were initially angered and inspired by the injury, but the emotion lasted only so long. After taking a 17-14 halftime lead, they faded during the third quarter.
"We had that letdown, we didn't get that (second-half) field goal and it kind of deflated us," said 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 shaky 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 long enough to let Henry beat a defender down the right sideline for a 66-yard catch. As the ball left Palmer's hand, a falling von Oelhoffen's shoulder drove into the quarterback's left knee.
(Von Oelhoffen is a Moloka'i High alum from Kaunakakai.)
"I knew right away that it was bad," said Palmer, who was on crutches after the game. "I felt my whole knee pop. I didn't feel a lot of pain. It was just a sickening feeling because I knew what it was and that my season was over."
Even though Palmer wears a protective brace, his knee bowed inward as it was hit. He had to be taken off on a cart.
"You could see Kimo was stumbling going down. He's not that kind of player," Roethlisberger said. "Carson's a great player. Any time you lose a great player like him, it's devastating."
Several Bengals yelled at von Oelhoffen, who spent his first six seasons in Cincinnati and still counts some of the Bengals as friends.
"Guys were infuriated," right tackle Willie Anderson said. "But I know him. He's not a dirty player. His momentum just kept him going into Carson. It wasn't a dirty play."
The nose tackle explained himself on the field.
"They had every right to be upset. They lost their best player," he said. "I hope Carson gets better. My apologies to him and his family.
"I was worried about Carson. That kid deserved to play this game."
Now, it was up to Palmer's mentor to get it done. He couldn't.
Kitna finished 24 of 40 for 197 yards with two interceptions and four sacks. He 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.