The playoff battle between the Bengals and their AFC North rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, was not a thing of beauty. Last-minute heroics by Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict was erased by head-scratching personal foul penalty, which begat a 18-16 loss. It was the Steelers’ first playoff win (courtesy of Steelers Depot) in their last four postseason appearances.
The loss to the Steelers leave Marvin Lewis with a zero in the playoffs’ win column on his resume. Marvin Lewis is now 0-7 in the postseason as the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach. The loss would be forgivable if things did not unravel the way that it did in the final minute and a half of the playoff battle.
Vontaze Burfict leads the NFL with 14 unnecessary roughness penalties (incl. playoffs) since joining the league in 2012
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
This playoff battle was brutal from the start. Bad blood that took place during the Steelers’ 33-20 Week 13 win carried over to the NFL Wildcard round.
Even though the Lewis-led Bengals were playing with backup quarterback AJ McCarron taking the snaps, it may not be enough to save his job. To his credit, McCarron did what he could to help give the Bengals the victory over the Steelers with a late touchdown strike to receiver AJ Green with under two minutes remaining. A failed two-point conversion still left Cincinnati ahead in this playoff battle, 16-15. Everything was looking good for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals.
On the next Steelers’ possession, Landry Jones, subbing in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, threw an interception on his first throw after the kickoff. Vontaze Burfict picked off Jones and ran the with the football all the way off the field. Burfict was flanked by several of his Bengals’ teammates. His interception spelled doom for the Steelers until they forced and recovered a fumble from Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill on the very next play.
Marvin Lewis did his part to speak with his defense after the fumble occurred. Lewis’s message had to be, simply, do not do anything foolish. That message was not received by Vontaze Burfict or Adam Jones.
As Pittsburgh moved down the field with a hurting Ben Roethlisberger leading the charge, mistakes were plentiful for the Bengals. The AFC North playoff battle was starting to become more emotional than anyone ever realized. With the Steelers closing in on field goal range, Burfict laid a vicious hit on Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown, leaving him dazed on the turf. Burfict’s hit, leading with his head, which is an illegal play, came after the football had hit the grass. He was penalized for 15 yards, which was all the Steelers needed to kick a game-winning field goal.
"He would not be on my football team. It's that simple." - NFL Countdown's Mike Ditka on Vontaze Burfict pic.twitter.com/gs6spBYjG2
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 10, 2016
The implosion of Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals continued when Adam Jones pulled a referee out of the way in an effort to go after a Steelers player. That warranted another 15-yard penalty, giving the Steelers’ Chris Boswell a chip shot for a field goal kick. The kick gave the Steelers a 18-16 win, leaving frustrated fans in tears. The defeat also officially started the Marvin Lewis watch.
Control whatsoever. Totally disgraceful. Marvin Lewis is done
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) January 10, 2016
Playoff battles will always have emotions running on high, but there was ugliness throughout. From a personal foul called on Pittsburgh assistant Mike Munchak, which will result in a hefty fine, according to CBS Sports, to Cincinnati fans cheering the right shoulder injury (courtesy of the Pittsburgh CBS Local) of Ben Roethlisberger. It all led up to the final minute of the game and the implosion of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Without a playoff win on his resume, Marvin Lewis is on shaky ground. He is a good coach who has led several teams to the postseason, but he does not have the victories that count the most. This Bengals’ team was the most talented group that Marvin Lewis has had in his years as the Bengals’ boss. The absence of his starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, will work in his favor as the Cincinnati Bengals’ front office decides his fate.
Truthfully speaking, Marvin Lewis deserves another season because he was missing Dalton. How the vaulted Bengals’ defense responded in the last minute of the game may suggest that Lewis lost his team the moment the Jeremy Hill fumble took place. If the front office weighs that, and couple it with the fact that the loss came from the Pittsburgh Steelers, then Marvin Lewis is in deep waters. All that had to happen was for Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones to keep their resolve. Everyone from Marvin Lewis to Vontaze Burfict would have been heroes. Instead, they all become goats after the heated playoff battle.
Warranted or not, Marvin Lewis is officially on watch.
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images Sport]