Gene Collier: Bengals idiocy extends Steelers' postseason run
January 10, 2016 1:42 AM
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict celebrates and heads to the locker room after what appeared to be a game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter, but in this case, pride went before the fall.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CINCINNATI – So this went just about the way you expected it to, right?
With Landry Jones and Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman – three guys who could walk into your Giant Eagle in their uniforms and cause no disruption -- trying to drag the Steelers to their first playoff victory in five years?
With fresh-from-the-doghouse Martavis Bryant somersaulting through an impossible end zone catch for the only Pittsburgh touchdown.
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers win over the Bengals
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers win over the Benglas at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. (Video by Peter Diana 1/10/2016)
With the Bengals overturning a 15-point Steelers lead in the fourth quarter.
With Ben Roethlisberger leading a 74-yard drive with an injured shoulder in the final frantic seconds.
With Cincinnati arch-villain Vontaze Burfict winning the game with an interception of Jones, then losing the game with a mind-bending forearm to the head of Antonio Brown on an incomplete pass.
Because things are just never violent enough for Vontaze.
The resultant penalty should have stood for eternity as one of the stupidest plays in NFL playoff history, until Adam “Pacman” Jones trumped it with a spasm of unsportsmanlike conduct before the game officials had even sorted out Burfict’s slice of idiocy.
Jones’ brain cramp on top of Burfict’s malice pulled the Steelers from the 47 all the way to the Bengals’ 17, well within range of their outstanding thumper Chris Boswell, whose 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left sent the Steelers to Denver and the Bengals screaming back to their personal postseason hell.
It’s been 25 years since they won a playoff game and it’ll be 125 before anyone forgets the way two of their own defenders stole this one from them in the final seconds.
“Our guys fought their tails off all year,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who’s now 0-7 in the playoffs. “Fought their tails off today, got back and went ahead, and then destructed on ourselves – offense and defense together. That’s disappointing.”
In an southwestern Ohio rainstorm that soaked 60 violent minutes in which critical components of two AFC North rivals were damaged and dismissed, it was no small miracle the Bengals were even in a position to re-create their own tragedy.
Cincinnati’s stellar safety Reggie Nelson was the first Bengal injured, and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick followed him to the sideline, then defensive tackle Domata Peko followed Kirkpatrick to the sideline, then running back Gio Bernard followed Peko to the sideline, then running back Jeremy Hill, who’d finally put Cincinnati on the scoreboard a minute into the fourth quarter, followed them all to the sideline.
But the biggest baddest blow came almost predictably from the Burfict menace when the 250-pound linebacker sacked Roethlisberger and came down on him like wall of bricks, knocking him out of the game with a shoulder injury as the third quarter and Pittsburgh’s swagger expired simultaneously.
Roethlisberger left on a cart, and the Steelers’ season appeared to follow him to the locker room.
A defense that pitched a brilliant shutout to that point promptly surrendered a 15-point lead, with the Bengals getting the go-ahead touchdown when backup quarterback AJ McCarron found A.J. Green open at the Steelers’ 2, where safety Mike Mitchell whiffed on a tackle and it was 16-15 Cincinnati.
Landry Jones, then in his third series in relief of Roethlisberger, tried to force a throw over the middle to Markus Wheaton, who had not separated nearly enough from Burfict. The Bengals linebacker stepped in front of Wheaton, snagged the pass, fell to the turf, got up, and sprinted to the Bengals sideline with the ball raised high over his head because he knew and they knew and you knew he’d just won the game.
But he should have stopped to notify Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who with 1:32 to play forced the second fumble of the best game of his career and the Bengals’ third of the second half. Hill had apparently recovered just enough to turn the ball over.
Still, the Steelers took over at their own 9 with only 83 seconds left, which was when Roethlisberger walked from the sideline for one final, fateful push.
He threw seven yards on third-and-2 to Toussaint, who generated 118 all-purpose yards as the stand-in for DeAngelo Williams. Toussaint’s last four yards came on third-and-seven as the clock blinked inside of 30 seconds, leaving Roethlisberger with a fourth-and-3 at his own 41. He hit Brown in the right seam for 12 yards to the Cincinnati 47 with 22 seconds left, and he was looking for Brown again on a crossing route on the very next play, but his pass sailed high just as Brown landed within range of Burfict.
All Burfict had to do was sidestep Brown as the play ended, but given the choice between that and a gratuitous, vicious, mindless, concussive blow to the receiver’s head, Vontaze chose the latter.
At that point, Boswell still would have had to kick a 50-yard field goal.
At that point, players were just milling about as Brown was being helped to his feet.
At that point, Pacman was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s never a good time to be called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but a bad time is probably, you know, when play is stopped, and when any such transgression would set up your opponent for a winning field goal in a playoff game.
Is this kind of pathology a significant part of the explanation for why the Bengals have won five playoff games in 48 years?
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