TDBH: Brawl in the Paul: Steelers hijack Wild Card in last 1:23

Posted Jan 8, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 9, 2016

While rain paints Paul Brown Stadium in a ghostly hue during tonight’s Wild Card Game, the Bengals pour on a break-neck fourth quarter with 16 unanswered points behind backup quarterback AJ McCarron and it looks for the all world like they are headed to their first post-season win in 25 years. They’ve got the ball on the Steelers’ doorstep and a 16-15 lead with 1:32 left before it all implodes emotionally and physically in a gut-wrenching 18-16 loss to the Steelers. The Bengals learn a painful lesson about narratives and winning. The Steelers are this far away from blowing a 15-0 lead in a loss they’ll face questions about a lack of discipline when one assistant coach grabs the hair of Bengals safety Reggie Nelson, another walks into the Bengals huddle, and linebacker Ryan Shazier knocks out Bengals running back Giovani Bernard on a helmet-to-helmet hit. But when Shazier rips the ball out of running back Jeremy Hill’s hands with 1:23 left, the Steelers do a quick re-write and it is the Bengals sentenced to national scrutiny.

 As Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger makes like Dracula and comes off a stretcher for that last drive, he can barely throw with a mangled shoulder. But the Bengals are hit with a pair of 15-yard penalties with 18 seconds left, the last one on cornerback Adam Jones after Pittsburgh assistant coach Joey Porter walks into the huddle. That comes after a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on linebacker Vontaze Burfict when he knocks Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown out of the playoffs with a concussion, resulting in Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left for a surreal 18-16 final.

 When McCarron sees wide receiver A.J. Green slither into the end zone with his 25-yard touchdown pass, a yard for every year of the drought, he looks to the sky and the skyline. “I was happy for the city,” McCarron says. “That was the biggest thing. I wanted to bring the city the first play-off win in a long time. That was my biggest driving force … The stadium just erupted. You could tell they were at a whole other level. It was like we finally did it. We’re finally here. It just sucked. It really sucks. I wanted it bad for the city.” A total of 110 seconds. That’s how far McCarron is from taking on Tom Brady in Foxboro after taking down Roethlisberger in a sneak peek at Canton. After the game Andy Dalton says he’s not sure if he could have played next Saturday with his fractured throwing thumb. “I’m proud of AJ. He took on a tough role. He took on a team that is a contender and to stand in there and figure everything out and the way and manner he had to do it, it was great,’ says left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “We knew a lot of things were going to be ugly at times. But he just went out there with every effort he had. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

What more could you want from a kid in his fourth NFL start? How about Green offering his best post-season effort? After 13 catches for 161 yards and no TDs in his first three play-off games, he grabs 34 of his 71 yards in that wild fourth quarter. But it should read 76 of his 113 yards because on the third snap of the fourth quarter he draws a 42-yard pass interference penalty on safety Will Allen  that puts the ball on the Steelers 4 and sets up Hill’s one-yard TD run to cut the lead to 15-7 with 13:57 left in the game. “I wanted the ball. That’s what I told AJ and he made the throws to get it to me,” Green says. Those deep balls are few and far between on a night the Steelers keep their safeties high, so McCarron goes underneath in the next drive, dumping it to Hill for passes of 11 and 13 yards and when tight end Tyler Eifert atones for a 20-yard drop with a diving 18-yard splash, Mike Nugent hits a 36-yard field goal to cut it to 15-10.
The tough thing about those two 15-yarders is that Burfict and Adam Jones do everything they can to put the Bengals this close. They look like civic heroes. Burfict, with a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception, may play the best game ever by a Bengals linebacker. His sack drives Roethlisberger from the field with a shoulder injury as the third quarter turns into the fourth and an interception of backup Landry Jones with 1:32 left appears to win it before Hill’s fumble. Jones’ 24-yard punt return gives McCarron the ball at the Steelers 45 with 3:28 left and Green waiting.  “Listen, those two didn’t lose the game,” says safety George Iloka.  “They are who they are. We wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if it wasn’t for those two this year. Don’t even start with that … All the plays they make. The play Vontaze made. That put us in position. The plays that (Jones) made this year. I’m not worried about that. That did not lose this game. It was a combination of other things.” At least Iloka can talk. “No words,” Green says.

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