When divisional rivals play, the drama is heightened. When divisional rivals play in the playoffs, the drama is heightened to the max. That was surely the case in the wild card game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Hollywood couldn’t have come up with a better drama movie than these two teams provided. The game had every twist and turn you could think of and then it became ugly late in the game. The Bengals were on the verge of being victorious and advancing to face the New England Patriots next week, but then had an absolute meltdown that ultimately cost them their season. The Steelers were the victors in the game, but going forward they could be in trouble.
This game didn’t need any drama heading into the contest, but the league issued a warning to both teams due to how out of hand things got in their week 14 meeting. The refs even stood at midfield to ensure that neither team tried to cross into the other’s side of the field. You know you’re in for an all-out brawl when something like that happens right before a crucial playoff game.
Neither team was able to put points on the board in the first quarter. The Steelers struck first with a 39-yard field goal from Chris Boswell with 2:27 left in the first half. Pittsburgh got the ball back and got a 30-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the first half. Pittsburgh was aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty when safety Shawn Williams drilled Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton on what looked to be a clean hit.
Boswell added his third field goal of the game with 10:09 left in the third quarter to make it 9-0. Five minutes later, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and found Martavis Bryant, who made an unbelievable circus catch for a touchdown. This was one of the most sensational plays you will ever see as Bryant did a front flip and still maintained possession of the ball. The ensuing two-point attempt was failed and the Steelers held a 15-0 lead, and seemed to be primed for a win.
Steelers safety Ryan Shazier nailed Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in the chin, which appeared to knock Bernard out. The play did not draw a flag, which drew the crowd into a heated frenzy. This led to Cincinnati fans in attendance to start throwing trash onto the field, something that should never happen no matter what is happening on the field. On the next Steelers drive, Vontaze Burfict sacked Ben Roethlisberger, resulting in a shoulder injury that required Big Ben to get carted off the field. The momentum shifted from there.
The Bengals finally got on the board with 13:57 left in the game on a 10-yard Jeremy Hill touchdown run. With 5:17 left the Bengals cut into the deficit once again behind a 36-yard field goal off the foot of Mike Nugent. Then with just under two minutes to play, AJ McCarron found AJ Green, who made a beautiful grab, for a touchdown to give the Bengals their first lead of the game. The two-point conversion was no good and Cincinnati held a 16-15 lead. After a Landry Jones interception from Burfict, Cincinnati started to unravel. Jeremy Hill ended up fumbling the football back to Pittsburgh while trying to run out the clock. This led to the game-winning drive that was aided heavily by penalties that should never have happened to begin with.
Pittsburgh was down to a fourth and three with their season on the line before converting. Roethlisberger missed Antonio Brown over the middle and then Burfict delivered a gruesome helmet-to-helmet hit on Brown that drew a 15-yard penalty. This hit was absolutely disgusting and uncalled for. Burfict went head-hunting and that is terrible. He should be fined a large amount of money and be suspended multiple games for this act. This was despicable and very uneasy to watch. During the delay in action, Pacman Jones was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for making a shoving motion at Steelers coach Joey Porter, who was on the field checking on Brown, and Pacman didn’t think he should have been. This led to Boswell’s chip shot game-winner.
The Bengals had one of the biggest late-game mental breakdowns you will ever see. This game was a showing of how much two divisional rivals can hate one another. The Bengals proved yet again that they cannot win a playoff game under head coach Marvin Lewis. It’s a shame how this game ended in such ugly fashion. This was a huge black eye for the NFL for everyone that watched that game. This nonsense needs cleaned up and out of the league. The league should make a prime example out of Burfict for deliberately hitting Brown helmet-to-helmet like he did.
Going forward, the Steelers will head back to Pittsburgh to put the pieces together before heading to Denver to face the Broncos. Brown is under the NFL’s concussion protocol, so the status for him is unknown at this time. Roethlisberger had his throwing shoulder banged up and that will be absolutely huge for the Steelers going forward. He could not throw the ball very far on the final drive, somehow found a way to lead his team to victory.
The Bengals will stay at home and yet again feel disappointment. This team has to take a long hard look in the mirror after losing the way they did with the meltdown. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is likely going elsewhere to be a head coach, will Marvin Lewis be looking to do the same? That is a question the Bengals front office will have to determine.
This was a good game with an ugly twist at the end. The Bengals had the game won, until they didn’t. The Steelers were on the verge of losing, until they didn’t. Cincinnati had a major mental breakdown and Pittsburgh took full advantage.