Josh Brown booted a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left to play to earn the Cincinnati Bengals a 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and a ticket to the National Football League playoffs on Sunday.
The victory was the Bengals' (9-6) first over their bitter AFC North rivals in six meetings and eliminated the Steelers (7-8) from post-season contention spoiling the holiday mood for the capacity crowd who had arrived at Heinz Field expecting to kick off the Christmas holidays with a win.
"It's very satisfying, quite honestly," Brown told reporters. "I've had some bad runs against Pittsburgh, including a bad game with the Rams last year, so really I just needed to exercise some demons.
"It's a good Christmas."
The outcome marks the first since 2006 that the Steelers will enter the final game of the regular season with no chance to make the playoffs while the Bengals earned back-to-back post-season berths for the first time in 30 years.
"It was not our day, not our year, not enough physical play at the moment," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "It sounds like a broken record but the reality, as we sit here, we accept responsibility for it. ...
"It's disheartening because we had chances."
As is typical when the Steelers and Bengals clash, the meeting was a bruising defensive battle, the Cincinnati defense accounting for the Bengals' only touchdown when Leon Hall intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the opening quarter and returned the ball 17 yards for the score.
Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter to get Pittsburgh back into the contest but made a critical mistake with 14 seconds to play, throwing his second interception that was returned to the Steelers 46.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton then hooked up with A.J. Green on a 21-yard pass to set up Brown's game-winning kick.
Pittsburgh had a chance to take control with 1:47 left on the clock when Shaun Suisham lined up to attempt a 53-yard field goal into the teeth of Heinz Field's notorious swirling winds. But the kick fell short, giving the Bengals the ball.
Brown had missed on a 56-yard attempt on the previous series as both teams struggled to generate offence.
Roethlisberger, who was intercepted in overtime in last Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, completed 14-of-28 passes for 220 yards but was under pressure all afternoon from a tenacious Bengals pass rush that sacked the Pittsburgh quarterback four times.
Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense surrendered just 14 yards rushing while Dalton completed just 24-of-41 attempts for 278 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Almost half of Dalton's completions went to Green, who hauled in 10 catches for 116 yards.
"It's a big win for the city of Cincinnati," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "We did a good job of hanging in there and not flinching and making big plays.
"There were a lot of big plays today. A lot of guys came up with big plays.
"That's what you have to keep having all the time."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Gene Cherry)