Posted: 6:20 p.m.
The third-and-long bugaboo that has haunted the Bengals all season probably cost them prized rookie linebacker Keith Rivers for the season Sunday when Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward broke his jaw on a crackback block on the fourth snap of the game.
Some Bengals, particularly safety Chinedum Ndukwe, didn't like the hit that came after the play Ward confounded them on a third-and-seven.
The Bengals couldn't get off the field when Ward avoided cornerback David Jones's attempted tackle on a slant and he took it 29 yards to the middle of the field.
RiversThe next play didn't draw a flag, but it did draw ire. On a short pass to tight end Matt Spaeth, Ward peeled back and blindsided Rivers, the club's No. 1 pick that had manned the WILL backer spot with a second-place 50 tackles on the team.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had no comment on the play except to say Rivers is probably out for the year.
But Ward may get called on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's carpet again after already griping about one $10,000 fine after a post-play head slap and a $5,000 fine for stepping over a defender. At first blush he appeared to go helmet to helmet with Rivers, a league no-no.
"That's his M.O. That's what he's known for," Ndukwe said. "You expect that coming in. People are going to take their shots when they can. Too bad he can't hit someone face up. It's too bad he has to wait until he's not looking to get him. It's unfortunate. It's the type of guy he is. That's all right. We play them again. He's a blind-side guy."
As he has all week, Ward defended himself on this one.
"I'm not doing anything illegal. It was a clean hit. I didn't stand over the guy or anything," he said. "I just celebrated the same as a guy does when he gets a sack. We'll see. I'm not going to change my ways. If they're going to keep fining me for that, then I'm going to get fined all year. I don't know if I hurt him or not, but that wasn't my intention. I saw he was hurt, said a little prayer for him, and that was it. I've been playing like that for 11 years. I guess I don't know what people are griping about."
Brandon Johnson, who replaced Rivers and made a team-high seven tackles, had a couple of takes.
"It was a good block. If I was in Hines Ward's shoes, I probably would have taken the same shot," Johnson said. "You really can't blame him.
"If he had been a quarterback, there definitely would have been a flag. If he'd been a receiver, there definitely would have been a flag. It's just something that comes with playing defense. You're pretty much expendable in the league's eyes."
Rivers, who had a tough time talking, chose not to speak to the media. Wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco was stunned to hear Rivers was done for the year but he thought it was an unfortunate part of the game.
"I'm mad about Keith getting hurt," Ocho Cinco said. "I don't think (it was a cheap shot). The play is going on; players are going after the ball, a crackback block, which is what it is called. You have to have your head on a swivel at some point."