For anyone who watched the Steelers 18-16 win over the Bengals, in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card matchup, one thing that was obvious was the difference in how each team carried themselves. While the Steelers conducted themselves professionally and played with heart, several members of the Bengals defense were out of control and undisciplined, especially at the end of the game. With about 22 seconds left in the game, and trailing 16-15, the Steelers were trying to drive into range for a game winning field goal. Vontaze Burfict drew a 15 yard penalty for an illegal hit to the head on a defenseless receiver, Antonio Brown, who was laid out on the field with a concussion. Moments later, Adam “Pac-man” Jones drew a 15 yard penalty for a confrontation with linebackers coach Joey Porter, who was on the field helping Brown off of it. The resulting 30 yards off of those penalties put the Steelers in position for Chris Boswell to kick the game winning 35 yard field goal, sending the Steelers on to the Divisional round of the playoffs next Sunday in Denver. Prior to the last few minutes of the game, it had been a somewhat pedestrian affair played in a steady rain.
The Steelers scored the only six points of the first half on two Chris Boswell field goals. by the end of the third quarter they had stretched their lead to 15-0 on a third Boswell field goal and a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant, whose reception might be the catch of the year. The fourth quarter is where things got very interesting and very chirpy. The Bengals finally got on the scoreboard with 13:57 left in the fourth quarter, on a Jeremy Hill 1 yard touchdown run to close the score to 15-7, following a pass interference call on Will Allen at the 2 yard line. The Steelers, who had been without Ben Roethlisberger since the end of the third quarter after he was driven to the turf by Vontaze Burfict, couldn’t muster much offense under Landry Jones. Ben’s abscence allowed the Bengals to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. After a Mike Nugent field goal with 5:12 left in the game cut the Steelers lead to 15-10, the stage was set for one of the most improbable endings to any game in recent memory. None of it would have been possible without a missed tackle on 25 yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 1:50 left in the game.
If Mike Mitchell makes that tackle, the Bengals have a first and ten at around the three, trailing 15-10. It is conceivable that the Bengals would have run at least another minute off the clock, as well as forcing the Steelers to burn their timeouts to stop the clock, before scoring their touchdown, assuming they scored one. At that point, the Steelers would be trailing 16-15 and getting the ball with about 47 seconds left with no timeouts after the kickoff. As it was, by Mitchell missing that tackle, the Steelers took possession at around the 16 yard line, trailing 16-15, with 1:43 left, following the kickoff. Immediately, Landry Jones threw a pass, intended for Markus Wheaton, that was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, which appeared to be a game ending turnover. One play later though, the Steelers got the ball back when Ross Cockrell recovered a fumble that was forced by Ryan Shazier, when Shazier stripped the ball from running back Jeremy Hill. When the Steelers offense came back on the field, Ben Roethlisberger came back out with them.
With 1:23 left in the game, the Steelers took over on their own 9 yard line, needing to go at least 56 yards to get into Chris Boswell field goal range. One minute later is when the Bengals’ meltdown finally occurred. With 22 seconds left in the game, Ben Roethlisberger tried to hit Antonio Brown downfield, but the pass went high off of Brown’s fingers. Despite the pass being incomplete, Vontaze Burfict decided to throw a shoulder to Brown’s head anyway, and was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, moving the ball to the Bengals 32. While the Steelers staff was tending to a concussed Antonio brown, linebackers coach Joey Porter came out to help take Brown off the field. Adam “Pac-man” Jones got into a confrontation with Porter and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which moved the ball 15 yards closer to the Bengals 18 yard line. Once play resumed, Chris Boswell came on to kick a 35 yard field goal to gave the Steelers the 18-16 lead with 18 seconds left. After the following kickoff and a batted down Hail Mary, the Steelers advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs in Denver next Sunday afternoon, while the Bengals and their fans felt the pain of the biggest choke job in Bengals history.
Throughout the game, Vontaze Burfict and Pac-man Jones were borderline out of control, having to be pulled away by refs from confrontations they initiated, along with being warned by head coach Marvin Lewis to settle down. The classless behavior wasn’t just limited to the players, as fans also got into the act. In addition to a can of beer that was thrown at Ben Roethlisberger as he was getting carted off of the field, there were also some water bottles thrown at the Pittsburgh bench during the course of the game. It was a most fitting and satisfying ending to a game for a team like the Steelers, who refused to lower themselves to the standards of their opponents and their classless fan base. Instead, the Steelers went about their business and had some players put on fantastic performances. Led by Chris Boswell and his four field goals, Martavis Bryant’s catch of the year in the endzone, and Ryan Shazier and his 13 tackles and two forced fumbles, the Steelers did everything they needed to do to win this game. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint also were much better than expected, by rushing for a combined 123 yards on 28 carries, while filling in for an injured DeAngelo Williams. Now that the Steelers delivered another postseason lesson in humility, they can now set their sights on a Denver Broncos that will be led by Peyton Manning this time around.