Paul Daugherty, firstname.lastname@example.org
January 10, 2016
A game that descended into brutal, chaotic farcewas won by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night.
The cool every Bengals player promised during the week was nothing but hot air. When the Bengals needed to play with poise, they committed two personal fouls on the same play. And that was the ballgame.
Seven is worse than six was worse than five. Every Bengals playoff loss is a stab in the same eye. Resurrecting reasons to believe gets harder each year. The Bengals aren’t the Cubs. We don’t find their losing lovable. We’d need another 100 years for that.
But make no mistake: Playoff L No. 7 of the Marvin Lewis Era was the worst. Given the sadness, skepticism and cynicism provoked by the previous six, that’s saying something.
It could also be the most telling.
Mike Brown is Mike Brown, so there very likely will be no change at the top. But if any game would force that, it would be this one. Too many players were out of control. That’s on the head coach. Too many stupid things happened. Passion has its place in football. Reckless stupidity does not.
I won’t go into detail about the game, its frantic finish yet another eye-stab. You saw it. You don’t need to read about it.
It’s mindless to blame a few plays or a few players for a loss that had more twists than a medieval thumb screw. It might have been easier had the Bengals lost 15-0. Chalk it up to another playoff fade. Only, they didn’t fade. They took the lead, 16-15, and with a first down at the Steelers' 26 with 1:36 left, had the game won.
Only this is January and these are the Bengals so Jeremy Hill, bless him, fumbled. Then Ben Roethlisberger, whose right shoulder was ground meat, took Pittsburgh 74 yards in nine plays. Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to send Cincinnati to its most crushing loss in ... forever.
You saw that.
So here’s the thing, and it is indisputable: You cannot launch yourself at a defenseless receiver’s head, after a pass sails uncatchably high. You can’t be pushing and shoving after the referees tell you to stop. This has nothing to do with curses or bad luck or “choking’’ or any of the millions of other reasons we’ve used to rationalize the postseason carnage.
It has everything to do with playing smart, poised, selfless football.
“We fought, then unraveled when it counted the most,’’ Michael Johnson said. “Roethlisberger didn’t hurt us on that last drive. We hurt us on that last drive.’’
Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones are terrific football players, whose games feed off emotion. Emotion without control is dangerous. The Steelers had 22 seconds left in their season when Roethlisberger threw incomplete across the middle to Antonio Brown. It would have been 2nd-and-10 from the Bengals' 47, a bad place for Pittsburgh to be with no timeouts and needing 15 yards at least for a chance to kick a wet ball in the pouring rain through the uprights.
Instead, Burfict drilled Brown with a vicious headshot: Fifteen yards. Jones went ballistic at the call, wouldn’t stop: Fifteen yards. The ball ended up at the Bengals' 15, where Boswell chip-shotted the game-winner.
Afterward, Burfict said little. Jones said less, except to stage an expletive-fest on Instagram, against the referees. He doesn’t get it and, at age 32, he likely never will.
No one is a bigger stickler for decorum on the field than Marvin Lewis. And yet he enjoys players who live on the edge of control. Always has, since the days of Odell Thurman. That’s fine: Every team would like to have players with the talent and fury of Burfict and Jones.
But when the fury escapes from the leash and costs you games, the coach is going to be the one held accountable. The irony is, Lewis likely saved Jones’ career, and gave life to Burfict’s. Now, he’s open to criticism because he can’t control their behavior on the field.
There will be Next Times, but there will never be another This Time. This time, the Bengals had the better team. The best team, in fact, that they’ve had in the Marvin Lewis era. “This is the best team I’ve ever been on. That’s the most disappointing part,’’ said Andrew Whitworth, here a decade.
Play football, don’t blow your cool, win the game. Make it the best night of lots of lives. The decisive penalties weren’t all that mattered in this game. Everything mattered in this game. But you slug and sweat and die a little for 59 minutes, to take a lead for the first time. The game is yours, and then it isn’t.
I asked Whitworth how hard it was to play with poise in such a crazy game. “If you have discipline, it’s not that hard. It’s not about one guy or one mistake,’’ he said. “But when you get those priorities out of control, that’s when things happen.’’
That’s when games are lost and nightmares linger.