Pittsburgh — Forget about the folly of a franchise long known as the Bungles. The Cincinnati Bengals proved to the Pittsburgh Steelers they're the best team in the AFC North right now, and, most of all, they proved it to themselves.
The Bengals went into Pittsburgh on Sunday, stood up to the team they rarely beat and all but secured their first division championship in 15 years, riding Carson Palmer's three touchdown passes and a defense that forced four more turnovers in an all-important 38-31 victory against the Steelers.
Rudi Johnson ran for Cincinnati's final two scores, one after a 94-yard Tab Perry kickoff return and the other following Ben Roethlisberger's third and most costly interception.
With four games to play, the Bengals (9-3) seized a two-game lead in the AFC North.
The Bengals are assured of their first winning record since 1990 and are closing in on their first playoff appearance since the days of the Ickey Shuffle and Wicky Wacky Sam Wyche.
Fittingly, Steelers receiver Hines Ward imitated Ickey Woods' old touchdown dance after scoring, only he didn't know his Chad Johnson-like highstepping would come in the Bengals' biggest win in years.
"None of us have been in this situation before," Palmer said. "Someone said since it's been since 1990, but in no way are we set. We have a chance to be 13-3 and that's what we're working toward."
The Steelers (7-5) got a gutty effort from Roethlisberger (29-of-41, 386 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions) despite a possible fractured right thumb, but dropped their third in a row and are in danger of not making the playoffs a year after going 15-1.
That's how pivotal this game was - if the Steelers had won, they would have been in the division lead by virtue of tiebreakers. Now, they face an uphill climb to get a wild-card berth.
The Steelers were 20-7 against the Bengals under coach Bill Cowher, including a 27-13 rout in Cincinnati on Oct. 23.
"But they're not the Bengals of old," Steelers guard Alan Faneca said. "Since Marvin Lewis came in, they've been a different team."
Even on a day the Bengals had much going against them - the crowd, the cold weather, their own history and an inspired game by a badly injured Roethlisberger - they responded.
Roethlisberger had his biggest passing day in the NFL despite a black-and-blue thumb that was encased in a splint and covered by a glove, but the Bengals had an answer every time Roethlisberger and the Steelers scored.
Palmer, who felt an urgency to beat the Steelers after losing his first three starts to them, threw scoring passes of 43 and six yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and one yard to Reggie Kelly.
Colts 35, Titans 3
Indianapolis - It was another perfect day for the Indianapolis Colts.
Indy was the first NFL team to clinch a playoff spot, rolling to its 12th consecutive victory.
Indianapolis (12-0) is now the fifth team in league history to start 12-0.
Tennessee (3-9) has now lost six straight to Indianapolis.
Peyton Manning extended his own NFL record to eight straight seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes, Edgerrin James became the second fastest player in league history to 9,000 yards, and Marvin Harrison became 12th player in league history to top 12,000 yards receiving.
Buccaneers 10, Saints 3
Baton Rouge, La. - Ronde Barber intercepted Aaron Brooks three times, and Chris Simms hit Joey Galloway for the only touchdown Tampa Bay needed.
On New Orleans' final drive, Brooks threw for the end zone on what could have been a game-tying score when Barber picked off the pass.
Panthers 23, Falcons 6
Charlotte, N.C. - The Panthers didn't have to find a way to stop Michael Vick.
He did it all by himself.
Atlanta (7-5) kept the crafty quarterback bottled up despite his long history of running wild against the Panthers.
DeShaun Foster scored two touchdowns and became the first Carolina back to go over 100 yards this season while helping the Panthers (9-3) establish a two-game NFC South lead over the Falcons (7-5) and a one-game advantage over Tampa Bay.
Giants 17, Cowboys 10
East Rutherford, N.J. - A week after blowing three potential game-winning kicks against Seattle, Giants kicker Jay Feely clanged a 33-yard attempt off the crossbar with 5:18 left that would have given the Giants a 10-point lead against Dallas (7-5).
But New York's defense held on.
The Giants (8-4) had four sacks, forced two fumbles - including one that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Antonio Pierce - and intercepted Drew Bledsoe twice.
Vikings 21, Lions 16
Detroit - Brad Johnson threw two touchdowns, Michael Bennett scored twice, and the Vikings held on to beat the Lions.
Minnesota (7-5) has won five straight, salvaging their season after a bad start and the now-infamous boat party.
Detroit (4-8) has lost five of six and didn't seem to be sparked by Dick Jauron in his debut as interim coach.
Jaguars 20, Browns 14
Cleveland - Jacksonville didn't miss Byron Leftwich as much as they feared.
David Garrard, making his fourth career start, threw two touchdown passes in the second half and made a crucial scramble for a first down in the final minutes as the Jaguars rallied for their fifth straight victory.
Bears 19, Packers 7
Chicago - Charles Tillman returned one interception of Brett Favre 95 yards to set up a field goal, and Nathan Vasher carried a fourth-quarter pick 45 yards for a clinching touchdown as the Bears ended Green Bay's domination at Soldier Field.
Chicago prevented Favre from throwing a TD pass against them - he'd done so in an NFL-record 26 straight games.
The Bears extended their winning streak to eight - their longest since the 1985 Super Bowl team started 12-0.
Dolphins 24, Bills 23
Miami - Chris Chambers leaped in the end zone to make one last grab with six seconds left to secure a Dolphins victory.
Chambers outjumped cornerback Jabari Greer for his 15th reception of the game, a four-yard score on fourth down to beat Buffalo.
Lee Evans caught three touchdown passes to put the Bills ahead 21-0 less than 13 minutes into the game. But backup Miami quarterback Sage Rosenfels directed fourth-quarter touchdown drives of 70, 49 and 73 yards.
Ravens 16, Texans 15
Baltimore - A game filled with blunders, fumbles and penalties ended in familiar fashion for Houston.
Matt Stover kicked a 38-yard field goal with six seconds left for the Ravens to win the game.
Kris Brown's fifth field goal with 1:08 to go to put Houston in position for its second victory of the season. But for the second straight week, the Texans let a seemingly certain victory get away.
Cardinals 17, 49ers 10
San Francisco - Kurt Warner was 29-of-45 for 354 yards, and Anquan Boldin turned one of his 11 catches for 156 yards into the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals' victory over San Francisco.
Larry Fitzgerald, playing opposite Boldin, notched eight receptions for 129 yards.
Redskins 24, Rams 9
St. Louis - There was no miracle comeback this week for the St. Louis rookie quarterback from Harvard. The Washington defense saw to that.
Clinton Portis ran for 136 yards on 27 carries with a pair of touchdowns, and the Redskins made Ryan Fitzpatrick run for his life.
The Redskins kept alive faint playoff hopes after losing the previous three games by a total of 10 points and likely knocked the Rams from the field of hopefuls.
Patriots 16, Jets 3
Foxborough, Mass. - New England won the battle of banged-up teams with contributions from two running backs who returned from injuries.
Corey Dillon scored on a one-yard run, and Kevin Faulk made three big third-down catches for New England.
Chargers 34, Raiders 10
San Diego - Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes for the Chargers (8-4).
The Raiders (4-8) lost their fifth straight to the Chargers.
San Diego got a scare when LaDainian Tomlinson came out with a rib injury late in the second quarter. After talking with the team's medical staff on the sideline, he jogged to the locker room, accompanied by a doctor, with 22 seconds left before halftime.
A few seconds later, his replacement, Michael Turner, ran in from the two to put the Chargers ahead for good, 17-10.
Tomlinson was back for the start of the second half.