Call it gloating, but I can't resist repeating what I wrote in this space just two days ago:
One of these years, Marvin Lewis and his Bengals are going to actually win a Playoff game, but until they do, I just can't pick them to win one now.
And as the headline to this post implies, to the certainties of life that are death and taxes, you can add the one that the Cincinnati Bengals will always find ways to screw things up. The late Myron Cope was never so prescient as he was when he christened them the Cincy Bungles, but I doubt that even Myron could have envisioned the deliciously Bengal-like screw up that was last night's Wild Card playoff game. Leading 16-15 and in possession of the ball on the Steelers 25 yard line and 1:36 to play, all the Bengals had to do was take a couple of knees and then kick a chip shot field goal, and the Steelers season was over.
But, no, these are the Bungles, and you know what then happened:
- Ryan Shazier forces the Bungle RB to fumble. Steelers recover.
- An injured and impaired Ben Roethlisberger has his Willis Reed moment and returns to begin a desperation drive (All you kids out there under the age of 55 or so, Google "Willis Reed Game 7 1971 NBA Playoffs".)
- Ben completes an absolutely key pass to on fourth down to Antonio Brown to keep drive alive.
- Then this play:
- A mindless, stupid, and illegal hit by Bengal Thug Vontaze Burfict on Brown, which resulted in a 15 yard penalty, which was then followed by another mindless, stupid penalty on another Bengal Thug, Pacman Jones, the Pride of WVU, which moved the ball to the Bengals 17, which set up this:
- Chris Boswell's fourth FG of the night, and this one won the game.
All of this unfolded amid announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms stepping out of their usual neutral boxes to highly criticize the play of the Bengals. I believe it was Simms who said that he had no blame for the officials. They had tried their best all night, he said, but there comes a point that you have to start throwing flags, even in critical situations, and they did it in those final :22 of the game. It cost the Bengals the game, and they have only themselves to blame.
At one point during all of this, the camera focused on Marvin Lewis, and Mrs. Grandstander says to me, "Is this guy a jerk?" No, I replied, I didn't think so, to which Mrs. GS says "Then why in the heck can't he control his own players?" Marilyn then took great delight minutes later when, in the CBS post-game, Bill Cowher, who once employed Lewis on his coaching staff in Pittsburgh, said virtually the exact same thing. "This falls right on Marvin Lewis" said Coach Cowher. As my Dad used to say about his daughter-in-law, "That Marilyn knows her ball!"
And speaking of the CBS post-game crew, the disgust expressed by Boomer Esiason, who can be forgiven for rooting for the Bengals, of the way his old team played throughout the night was noteworthy as well.
To be sure, the Steelers were not totally innocent in this one. They had an assistant coach flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct early in the game, and Joey Porter had no business being on the field after the hit on Brown, but they comported themselves better than the Bengals, and it was the bad behavior (putting it mildly) that cost the Bengals the game. I can only imagine what talk radio in Cincinnati will be like over the next several days.
Not to be forgotten in the midst of all this are the terrific performances of third and fourth string running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman filling in for the injured DeAngelo Williams, who had been filling in for the injured Le'Veon Bell, who it needs to be noted, was lost for the season after a questionable hit in the regular season by none other than Vontaze Burfict. On a night when heavy rains made passing difficult, they answered the call, big time.
And, then there was this stunning touchdown reception by Martavis Bryant.
In real time, it was a pretty nice catch, but when watching it in replay, it was an absolutely stunning play by Bryant. If the Steelers manage to sustain a run that takes them to the Super Bowl, this becomes one of the greatest plays in Steelers history.
And one more word on the officials in that game, and it comes from friend Dave Glass. In basketball and, especially, hockey, referees are known for swallowing their whistles in late game, critical situations, but that didn't happen last night. The officials knew they were sitting on a tinder box of a game last night, and did their best to control it, but when players, specifically Burfict and Jones, went completely off the rails, they made the calls that had to be made. Bengals loyalists will make the statement that "officials shouldn't decide the outcomes of games", but in this case they did not. It was Burfict and Jones who decided the outcome of this game.
The Steelers now head to Denver next Sunday to take on the Broncos with Peyton Manning back at the helm. Much depends on the health of both Roethlisberger and Brown, but if they are healthy and ready to go, I have full confidence that the Steelers can win that one.
Let us leave with a couple of other images from Paul Brown Stadium last night.
Head Enabler Marvin Lewis tries to steer his Chief Thug away from the officials. Too late, Marvin, way too late.
NBC managed to get a shot of this chick in tears in the stands at the end of the game, and whoever she is, she is already famous on Facebook, at least among Steelers fans.