Steelers 23, Bengals 17, OT

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CINCINNATI (AP) – Santonio Holmes’ long touchdown catch in overtime ended the Cincinnati Bengals’ season and gave Steelers coach Bill Cowher a reason to smile as he decides whether his Pittsburgh career is over, too.

Holmes caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the third play in overtime, eluded defenders and dived the final few yards into the end zone for a 67-yard score, giving Pittsburgh a wild 23-17 win Sunday.

The defending Super Bowl champions (8-8) were already eliminated from playoff contention, but wanted to take the Bengals down with them. They did, taking advantage of more Bengals bumbling.

With only three games left in the season, Cincinnati (8-8) was in position to clinch one of the AFC’s two wild-card berths with one more a victory. Instead, the Bengals imploding while losing their last three games.

A bad snap on an extra-point try with 46 seconds left resulted in a 24-23 loss in Denver a week earlier. This time, Shayne Graham was wide right on a 39-yard field goal attempt with 8 seconds left in regulation.

Those two kicks doomed their season.

The dramatic comeback ended a trying year for the Steelers, who now must wait to see whether Cowher will return for a 16th season. He plans to reach a decision soon.

If this was his finish, it was one worth remembering.

Carson Palmer threw touchdown passes of 66 yards to Chris Henry and 5 yards to Tony Stewert in the fourth quarter, then hooked up with Henry on a 47-yard completion that put the Bengals in range for the win.

Graham, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, pushed the field-goal attempt a few feet wide, leaving the Bengals crestfallen. They knew they could have still made the playoffs if Graham had made the kick and the Broncos lost to San Francisco later in the afternoon.

All Ben Roethlisberger needed was three plays in overtime to end those faint hopes.

He found Holmes open on a slant and hit him in stride. Holmes eluded three tacklers, diving the last few yards into the end zone while rookie Johnathan Joseph tried to grab him. Roethlisberger ran down the field with index fingers raised and his mouth agape, looking for someone to hug after a rare, joyful moment.

Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl last season, but had little more than bad news this time around – a motorcycle accident in the offseason, an appendectomy and a concussion during it.

His touchdown pass gave the Steelers their sixth straight win in Cincinnati, where fans are still miffed at how the last one turned out. Palmer’s left knee was shredded by Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit during Pittsburgh’s playoff win last season, and Cowher stole Cincinnati’s “Who Dey” cheer during the postgame celebration in the locker room.

AP-ES-12-31-06 1703EST

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