By Curt Macysyn
Maybe the Cincinnati Bengals’ mascot is a black cat, or perhaps Marvin Lewis broke a mirror on his way to the field at Paul Brown Stadium, because the football gods did not do him any favors in trying to get his first playoff win. The Bengals already had their work cut out for them with starting quarterback Andy Dalton was already on the sidelines with a broken thumb. Back-up quarterback A.J. McCarron had to battle an aggressive Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense and a driving rain storm; certainly not the best conditions to break an 0-6 playoff record for Lewis with Cincinnati.
McCarron scuffled all evening, as the Steelers were in his face with multiple blitz packages, but somehow the Bengals grabbed a 16-15 lead on a McCarron to Green 25-yard touchdown with 1:56 left in the contest. Cincinnati was able to take the lead after Steelers veteran signal caller Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a right shoulder injury late in the third quarter. After the Green TD put Cincy ahead, Pittsburgh back-up Landry Jones tried to rally the Steelers, but he tossed an ill-timed interception to linebacker Vontaze Burfict that seemingly put the game out of reach with less than two minutes remaining.
A fumble by running back Jeremy Hill as the Bengals tried to run out the clock breathed new life into the Steelers, and Roethisberger returned to the game to jump start their comeback. Big Ben dinked and dunked the gold and black toward field goal territory when the combustible Burfict leveled receiver Antonio Brown, causing a fifteen yard personal foul. Adding to the nonsense, while trainers tended to the wobbly Brown, Bengals’ cornerback Adam Jones received another personal foul call that put the Bengals into field goal range for Boswell.
In reality, good teams also make their own luck, so Lewis and company have no one to blame but themselves for the full-scale meltdown that allowed the Steelers to ride a 35-yard late game field goal by kicker Chris Boswell for 18-16 victory over the Bengals.
Bengals Offense: D
McCarron was serviceable for the Bengals, going 23-for-41 for 212 yards and a touchdown. The former Crimson Tide QB also threw an interception and lost a fumble, but keep in mind that the game was played in a driving rain storm. Halfback Jeremy Hill cannot be considered an elite running back with a very pedestrian 50 yards on 12 carries, including a huge game-changing fumble late in the fourth quarter. Hill had 38 rushing yards come on one carry, so he had 12 yards on 11 carries otherwise.
Wide receiver A.J. Green had five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown, which may have otherwise been enough to get things done. Tight end Tyler Eifert also had five catches, but where were Giovanni Bernard and Rex Burkhead? Bernard had just four targets out of the backfield, and Burkhead touched the ball only twice all game.
Bengals Defense: F
When you have the lead with less than two minutes remaining, your primary goal should be to play solid defense, and give your team a chance to win the game. Not in Bengals-land apparently.
On the game’s final drive, the Bengals’ defense was already beginning to die of a thousand cuts as Ben Roethlisberger, with an injured right shoulder no less, was moving his team into field goal range using mostly check downs. Then the Bengals’ decided to slit their own wrists through the stupidity of not one, but two of their players. The result was that everything the team had worked for this entire season, went right down the drain. There is no excuse for this complete lack of good sense, as Burfict’s personal vendetta was his primary, and perhaps his only, concern this evening.
As if his on-field damage was not enough, Jones immediately took to Instagram in the game’s aftermath with an expletive-laced rants about the referees and Pittsburgh coach Joey Porter. We know, not your fault, Adam.
Bengals Special Teams: C
Kevin Huber punted six times with a 42.5 yards per kick average, and he had three kicks downed inside the 20-yard line. Adam Jones had a 24-yard punt return which set up the Bengals go-ahead scoring drive. Jones also had a 25.0 yards per return average on two kickoff returns.
Bengals Coaching: F
Marvin Lewis trusted Vontaze Burfict with the game on the line, and Burfict repaid him with an incredibly stupid penalty that cost his team the game. If Odell Beckham warranted a one-game suspension for transgressions against the Carolina Panthers, then someone will need to explain why Burfict does not deserve a similar ban. Adam Jones then poured gasoline on the fire by getting another flag, and there went Lewis’ opportunity for his initial playoff win.
If Bengals’ offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a candidate for multiple head coaching openings, then he may want to burn this videotape. Less than 20 rushing attempts, knowing that you had to take pressure off your back-up QB, was certainly not impressive. In addition, Jackson was not very innovative in trying to get A.J. Green one-on-one opportunities. Ironically, his pretty bland game plan that almost worked.
Defensive coordinator Paul Gunther’s game plan held the Steelers to 279 total yards in the game, which was not bad in and of itself. Unfortunately, Gunther has to coach players like Jones and Burfict, and that is his downfall.
Another playoff loss, with an embarrassing meltdown, has to raise job security issues with Lewis, as this horror story played out before a national television audience.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.