In a game that can only be described as epic, the Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to the AFC Divisional playoff round thanks in no small part to one of the biggest meltdowns in playoff history. The end result, an 18-16 win for the Steelers over their AFC North rival the Cincinnati Bengals, will long be remembered for one of the craziest sequences in the final two minutes of a game you will ever see.
In this week’s edition of Three up, three down, let’s look at the best and worst from one of the wildest finishes in playoff history.
*The much-maligned Steelers defense posted a shutout for three quarters and despite a fourth quarter where the Bengals were able to score 16 points to take a late one-point lead, they came up with the plays they needed to get the win.
Let’s start with Ryan Shazier, who had put nagging injuries and inconsistency aside for a night and was an absolute monster. His strip of Jeremy Hill with 1:23 left in the game and the Steelers season on life support was his second forced fumble of the game and could go down as one of the biggest plays in Steelers playoff history. Shazier added 13 tackles and made a number of plays in pass coverage.
Fellow first-round picks Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree lived up to the hype in a playoff atmosphere. Jones third-quarter strip sack of AJ McCarron led to to a field goal and what looked like a commanding 9-0 lead. Dupree was credited with three tackles but was much more disruptive than the stats depict and he chipped in covering the Bengals dangerous tight end Tyler Eifert.
The ability of the Steelers to stop the Bengals rushing attack can’t be understated. Much of the credit has to go to the Steelers defensive line. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were able to get a consistent push inside making it impossible for Hill and Gio Bernard to get rolling. This was a critical element to the Steelers success on defense.
Antwon Blake chipped in with an interception, one of four turnovers forced by the Steelers defense.
*Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman might not be household names, but their efforts Saturday night were one of the biggest reasons the Steelers are moving on to Denver. Toussaint got rolling early with a pair of nine-yard runs early in the game and Todman chipped in with 65 yards on only 11 carries. For the night, the duo combined for 123 yards on 28 carries and Toussaint added four catches, including one that helped keep the winning drive going on a third-down conversion still deep in their own territory.
*I guess Martavis Bryant got the memo when Ben Roethlisberger publicly called out the mercurial talent earlier this week. Bryant came up with two of the biggest plays of the night on offense. The first was a dazzling 44-yard run on a reverse that would set up one of Chris Boswell’s four field goals and the second was 10-yard touchdown grab that gave the Steelers a 15-0 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Bryant’s catch and pardon the hyperbole, might go down as one of the greatest in NFL playoff history. Bryant was able to secure the ball mid-flip between his legs in an amazing display of concentration and skill that set social media ablaze.
*The injuries just continue to mount for the Steelers. Of course the most noteworthy was the shoulder injury to Roethlisberger. Although he gutted out the final drive after missing the rest of the fourth quarter, it was clear his ability to throw the football was severely limited. With an extra day to heal, the hope is Roethlisberger will be OK for next Sunday’s Divisional playoff against the Broncos, but it will be another week of speculation surrounding an injury to Big Ben – not optimal considering who good that Broncos defense is.
Not to be overlooked, the loss of fullback Will Johnson to a hamstring injury could be huge. With Roosevelt Nix already out, the Steelers do not have any fullbacks left on the roster and considering how much the offense relies on the position in their offense, this could be another tough loss to overcome in season that must be noted for so many key injuries.
Finally MVP candidate Antonio Brown left the game on the final drive with a concussion compliments of a dirty hit by Vontaze Burfict. Brown will likely have to pass the league’s concussion protocol in order to be available against the Broncos.
*The Steelers can thank Burfict and the Bengals for their epic meltdown late because without them, the Steelers very well lose this game and one of the biggest reasons would be the 10 penalties that cost the Steelers 142 yards. Granted playing against the undisciplined Bengals led to many of those calls, some of which were dubious, but you can’t expect to win many games with that many penalties.
*It’s time for the NFL to take a long look at Burfict’s misconduct and frankly, consider throwing the proverbial book at him for his on field behavior. For the second straight game, Burfict was involved in a number of scrums with Steelers players and coaches, and his hit on Brown was downright dangerous. Sure, Burfict will be assessed hefty fines, but a lengthy suspension is in order.
Lastly, McDonald native Marvin Lewis must pay the price for Bengals self-inflicted collapse. This has nothing to do with playoff droughts or his 0-7 record in the postseason, it’s all about his lack of control that was on full display last night. There is simply no excuses anymore. Much like Burfict and Bengals cornerback Adam “Pac Man” Jones, his time in Cincinnati should be over.
Photo credit: New York Times