CINCINNATI — Outplayed for three quarters, the Cincinnati Bengals rose to score 14 fourth-quarter points Sunday and edge the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers 23-20.
Andre Caldwell caught the go-ahead touchdown, a 4-yarder from Carson Palmer, with 14 seconds left.
Brian Leonard, who moments earlier had caught a short pass to convert a fourth-and-10 play, caught the two-point conversion pass.
"Our fans wanted it as bad as we did as players and coaches," Palmer said of the winning drive and a sellout crowd of 64,538. "To give them that and to see everybody's hands go up and signal touchdown, and just to feel that roar of the stadium, you just feel so lucky and blessed to be out on the field wearing that uniform and high-fiving guys, jumping up and chest-bumping guys."
Pittsburgh (1-2) had won eight consecutive games at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I expect a win every time I come in here," said Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis. "It was a good win for the team. It was a division win, and we've got two more the next two weeks on the road (Cleveland, Baltimore). Obviously those games are huge, so it will be a fun week."
The Bengals (2-1) won after being outgained 152 yards to minus-10 in the first quarter, 258-91 for the half.
Defense kept Cincinnati in the game, holding the Steelers to a pair of field goals and a 27-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Willie Parker in the first half.
Shayne Graham's 34-yard field goal on the last play of the half cut Pittsburgh's lead to 13-3.
"As long as you keep your composure, you'll be all right," Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "That's the thing about this defense — we never give up. When it seemed like they were driving, driving and about to score, we held them to a field goal."
Johnathan Joseph returned an interception for a 30-yard touchdown to bring the Bengals within 13-9 early in the third quarter. A high snap foiled the PAT play.
Pittsburgh countered with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Roethlisberger got the score on a 1-yard sneak.
But the Steelers were done on offense. Next possession, they were three-and-out. Then, one first down and out. Last try, from their 34, a desperate incompletion.
Cedric Benson, who gained 58 of his 76 yards in the second half, scored on a 23-yard run with 9:14 left. A two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 20-15.
Cincinnati got the ball back with 5:14 left, on its 29.
The Bengals would eat up all but the final 14 seconds.
Facing fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 20, Palmer hit Laveranues Coles for a 5-yard gain, then spiked the ball.
Two incompletions set up the fourth-and-10 play for Leonard.
"Everyone knows their role on this team," said Leonard, who picked up 11 yards. "I think I only had four or five offensive plays before those last two plays I had. When you get in there, you've just got to make the best of the opportunity."
Palmer spiked the ball at 0:18. Then, Caldwell slid in front of James Farrior to make the winning catch.
"I was supposed to go behind the linebacker, but he dropped almost to the back of the end zone so I just freestyled and jumped right in front of him for the touchdown," Caldwell said. "I just broke it off, just like backyard football."
Palmer read the play, too.
"Where he was supposed to go wasn't going to be open and he made a decision. He didn't leave any second-guessing," Palmer said. "I knew exactly what he was doing when he did it, and it won the game."
Palmer finished 20-for-37, good for 183 yards. Roethlisberger went 22-for-31 for 276.
Keith Rivers, who suffered a broken jaw against Pittsburgh last season, led Cincinnati tacklers with eight. Chris Crocker and Robert Geathers each had seven.