Ron Cook: Steelers backups come through as Bengals self-destruct
January 10, 2016 1:23 AM
Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint picks up a first down Saturday night against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CINCINNATI — They will be talking about this football game in Pittsburgh for years. Ben Roethlisberger left after three quarters Saturday night with a shoulder injury only to come back to play in the final two minutes with virtually one arm and lead the Steelers to a surreal 18-16 win in their AFC wild-card hair-pull against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“When he makes miracles happen, I’m not surprised,” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said.
They also will be talking about the game for years in Cincinnati. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the longest current streak in the NFL. They have only themselves to blame for this latest debacle.
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)
Running back Jeremy Hill lost a fumble with 1:23 left after taking a hit from Shazier as the Bengals were trying to run out the clock with a 16-15 lead. Roethlisberger came on to lead the winning drive, although he received plenty of help from the blockhead Bengals. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has made his hatred for all things Pittsburgh and the Steelers well known, went from hero to goat. His personal foul for a hit to the head of wide receiver Antonio Brown with 18 seconds left set up Chris Boswell’s winning 35-yard field goal. So did an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bengals’ Adam Jones as Brown was being helped off the field.
Can you say self-destruction?
It seems amazing now, but Burfict was on track to be the toast of Cincinnati. His sack of Roethlisberger on the final play of the third quarter knocked Roethlisberger out of the game. He then intercepted a pass by backup Landry Jones with 1:36 left that seemed to seal the win for the Bengals.
What does Penguins announcer Mike Lange always say?
You had to be here to believe it.
The Steelers defense played spectacularly for three quarters but wilted down the stretch. It gave up a touchdown and a field-goal drive before allowing quarterback AJ McCarron to throw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green for the go-ahead score with 1:50 left.
But Hill’s fumble gave Roethlisberger and the Steelers life. Burfict’s sack of Roethlisberger was a clean play; Burfict merely landed with full body weight on Roethlisberger, who got up holding his right arm to his stomach. Roethlisberger was immediately carted to the locker room, much to the delight of the Paul Brown Stadium crowd. Many fans stood and cheered the injury and jeered Roethlisberger. Little did they know then that they would be crying later.
Much credit goes to Steelers backup running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. There was concern coming in that the ankle injury to DeAngelo Williams in the final regular-season game at Cleveland would doom the Steelers. That was hardly the case. Toussaint and Todman were outstanding.
This wasn’t at all like the playoff loss last season to the Baltimore Ravens, when the Steelers went into the game without injured All‑Pro Le’Veon Bell after he was hurt in the final regular-season game. Ben Tate, who was signed as a free agent only days before the game, and Josh Harris, who spent much of the year on the practice squad, combined for just 44 yards on 14 carries in a 30-17 loss. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and was sacked five times. The Steelers offense was impotent.
Not so Saturday night.
“I talked to those guys before the game and told them that some people were down about them,” Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant said. “I told them we all had faith in them. ‘Go out and play hard for yourself.’ I’m not surprised at all by what they did. Hard work pays off. Those guys worked hard in practice.”
Toussaint and Todman didn’t remind anyone of Franco and Rocky, but they did a lot of heavy lifting, combining for 123 yards on 28 carries. Toussaint also caught four passes for 60 yards. That is 183 total yards.
Who saw that coming?
The running game was big on a rainy night along the Ohio River when passing the ball was difficult for both teams. The Bengals managed just 91 rushing yards. The Bengals defense wasn’t nearly as dominant against the Steelers, who finished with 167 rushing yards. They got 44 on an end-around by Bryant that set up their third field goal and a 9-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Toussaint, who spent the first half of the season on the practice squad, had just 18 carries for 42 yards coming into the game, getting 12 for 24 yards after subbing in for Williams against the Browns. Todman, who dressed for the first 11 games before losing the backup job to Toussaint, had four carries for 22 yards.
But all the pregame speculation that had Roethlisberger throwing the ball all night was wrong. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown, an acrobatic 10-yard catch by Bryant late in the third quarter for a 15-0 lead, before his injury. It helped that Roethlisberger didn’t throw an interception after throwing two in each of the final three regular-season games.
But it was clear from the start that offensive coordinator Todd Haley trusted Toussaint and Todman.
Toussaint finished with 17 carries for 58 yards. Todman had 11 carries for 65 yards.
Roethlisberger said he should be OK for the game against the Broncos. Williams should have a chance to play. The entire team can thank Toussaint and Todman — and some bone-headed stupidity by the Bengals — for the opportunity.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.