CINCINNATI — Cornerback Rod Woodson finally made his mark Sunday on a Pittsburgh Steeler defense that left its marks all over Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason.
Woodson, a first-round draft choice playing his third NFL game, returned his first interception 45 yards for a touchdown as the Steelers beat the Bengals, 30-16.
Woodson's second-quarter return was the highlight of a defensive effort by the Steelers that included five sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
"It's a great feeling to do what you can to help the team," Woodson said.
Woodson, a college track star from Purdue, held out until Oct. 28 in a contract dispute.
His interception Sunday came when Esiason's pass deflected off cornerback Cornell Gowdy. Woodson used his speed to beat the Bengals' pursuit down the sideline for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 13-3 lead.
"Gowdy came up, it hit him in the pads and jumped right into my hands," Woodson said. "Really, all you do when you catch the ball is run with it."
The Steelers (6-4) kept Esiason on the run all afternoon to deliver the knockout blow to the playoff chances of the Bengals (3-7). They sacked Esiason 5 times for 36 yards in losses and picked off three passes, padding their league-leading interception total to 22.
Esiason completed 30 of 53 passes for 409 yards--the second-highest total of his career--but couldn't hit the big pass, mainly because of the intense pressure applied by the Steelers.
"Physically they beat on us, for whatever reasons," Esiason said. "Sometimes your opponent just comes in and beats you, and that's what they did."
The Steeler defense also set up one of Gary Anderson's three field goals with a fumble recovery.
Pittsburgh quarterback Mark Malone completed 15 of 28 for 194 yards with 2 interceptions.
Malone threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Weegie Thompson in the third quarter to end a streak of seven quarters without a touchdown by the Steelers' offense.
Malone also ran 42 yards for a touchdown as the Steelers were running out the clock with 48 seconds to play.
However, the Steeler defense made the difference in a game which saw both teams crippled by offensive injuries. Cincinnati was without receiver Cris Collinsworth and running back James Brooks. Pittsburgh missed receivers Louis Lipps and John Stallworth and running back Earnest Jackson.
The Steelers led, 13-6, at halftime and a 46-yard field goal by Cincinnati's Jim Breech cut the lead to 13-9 in the third quarter.
But Malone's touchdown pass to Thompson gave Pittsburgh a 20-9 lead, and a 46-yard field goal by Anderson, his 11th straight successful attempt against the Bengals, made it 23-9.
Cincinnati's Larry Kinnebrew ran two yards for a touchdown with 2:20 to play, and Malone's touchdown run concluded the scoring.