I don’t think the scar on the Cincinnati Bengals will ever go away.
In a disgraceful late-game exhibition that ended up a black mark on the NFL and a team that has fallen short countless times, the Pittsburgh Steelers advanced in the AFC playoffs by winning a game they really had no chance to win. They’re moving on because the Cincinnati Bengals lost it. Not because they were outplayed.
But because they lost it: they lost their poise, they lost their discipline, and they lost their self-control.
Teams prepare virtually all year to get to the playoffs and advance in the playoffs and hopefully get to the Super Bowl and become world champions. That’s the goal of every club. It’s hard work. You need ability, teamwork and luck. This season the Cincinnati Bengals got as far as capturing the AFC North title. But the one thing that had eluded them was success in the post-season. They hadn’t seen it in 20 years and under head coach Marvin Lewis were 0-6.
But despite losing their ace quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals were on the verge of beating the favored Steelers in Cincinnati and getting the monkey off their back. They were leading 16-15 and the Steelers, without a timeout, the clock running out and a courageous quarterback Ben Roethlisberger unable to throw downfield with a separated shoulder, had virtually no chance to get in range for a game-winning field goal.
However they did get that chance. The Steelers won 18-16 with a chip-shot field goal because Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, out of control so many times in his career, hurled himself at defenseless receiver Antonio Brown, just missing a helmet-to-helmet crash but landing a shoulder on Brown who suffered a concussion in the process. Burfict, who has a history of unnecessary roughness penalties cost his team the game. So did Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones the defensive back who was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty nearly brushing an official with his loud protest. That’s 30 yards of penalties and set up the game-winner.
Many years ago, working in Pittsburgh, I interviewed a Steelers head coach (not Chuck Noll) who told me on live television that a player refused several times to follow a direct order in a game played the day before. When the coach said that, the Steelers made the decision to fire him after the season.
During Saturday’s game, Marvin Lewis had admonished his team, including and especially Burfict to keep their cool and play with poise. The head coach is in charge. Responsibility for conduct on the field is on the shoulders of one man. But they ignored him. Lewis should bear the same fate as that Steelers coach, but all signs point to the fact it won’t happen.
So now the Cincinnati Bengals are 0-7 under Marvin Lewis in the playoffs.
But this one carries a scar that will never go away.