The Cincinnati Bengals suffered another heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, it was more painful than before. The Bengals lost 18-16, in a defensive battle that was plagued with penalties and sloppy plays. Now, the Bengals are faced with coaching and player decisions, during the off-season.
The prime time Wild Card war between the Bengals and Steelers started as a defensive struggle. The Steelers received the ball first and promptly went three-and-out. The Bengals defense held up against the powerhouse Pittsburgh and forced an early punt.
Getting the ball, after an early Pittsburgh exit, the Bengals weren’t able to do much better. The Steelers were able to hold the high-powered Cincinnati offense to a punting situation. AJ McCarron looked comfortable on his first possession. Getting the ball to A.J. Green, on a quick screen, took the edge off, but the drive was put to sleep after eight plays.
Kevin Huber pinned the Steelers inside their 10-yard line, although Pittsburgh came out punching. The Steelers players weren’t the only ones hyped up. Pittsburgh offensive line coach Mike Munchak grabbed Reggie Nelson’s hair and pushed him into a safety wall. The refs quickly got control of the game and flagged the Steelers for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The drive ended when Ben Roethlisberger was sacked at the Cincinnati 46-yard line and Reggie Nelson was injured on the play. Friendly fire from linebacker Vincent Rey was the culprit. He stepped on Nelson’s foot when they took Roethlisberger down. He was taken to the locker room and never returned.
The light rain that had been falling suddenly turned into a full-blown storm. The Bengals had a couple of scares when McCarron fumbled the ball. McCarron recovered one and Clint Bowling fell on the other.
The Bengals’ finally got the break they needed when Brandon Wheaton fumbled and the ball was recovered inside Pittsburgh territory, but the Bengals gave it right back. AJ McCarron tried to hit Marvin Jones deep and threw his first interception since he became starter.
That turnover was costly. The Steelers were able to turn a six-play drive into a 39-yard field goal. They finally scored the first points of the night and took a 3-0 lead, with just over two minutes remaining until halftime.
The Steelers were able to connect for another three points and went into halftime leading 6-0.
The second half became a series of meltdowns for both teams as the rivalry became ugly. Pittsburgh was able to capitalize on the unstable emotions of the Bengals and take a 15-0 lead. Martavis Bryant was able to make a circus catch on a perfectly placed pass in the corner of the end zone. The Steelers tried a two-point conversion but came up empty.
The Bengals gave it a valiant try. A 25-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to Green with 1:50 remaining allowed the Bengals to erase a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit and go ahead 16-15 in the game. But as fate would have it, the Bengals came up short again.
Ben Roethlisberger had been taken from the game with an injury and stood on the sideline. With his rain cape on, it seemed like he wouldn’t return. The Bengals had the ball and merely had to run out the clock for their first playoff victory in 25 years. Jeremy Hill took a handoff and fumbled. The Steelers recovered.
Landry Jones had replaced him under center and the Bengals defense could smell victory. Per ESPN stats, in his brief appearance, Jones went 2-of-5 for 11 yards and an interception. With the game on the line, Big Ben returned.
He led the Steelers on a 9-play, 74-yard drive aided by two 15-yard penalties on Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict. With 0:14 remaining on the clock, Chris Boswell kicked his fourth field goal of the night. The Bengals will have to wait another year to break the cycle.
[Feature Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images]