Chris Boswell dived in desperation, swiping his hand at the heels of Alex Erickson as he raced along the sideline.
The Steelers kicker's facemask bounced off the turf and back up in time to see Erickson fall.
“That's probably the biggest tackle I've ever made,” Boswell said. “It felt pretty good, just to stop him from scoring because it was an automatic touchdown.”
On a day when he converted a career-high six field goals into a stiff wind, Boswell's biggest play saved the Steelers in a 24-20 victory over the Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
With the AFC North Division title at stake, the Steelers sputtered from the start.
They looked nothing like the team that ran the ball at will against Buffalo. Instead, the Steelers' defense drew facemask and pass-interference penalties that led to a touchdown and an offensive chop-block call that cost them one. “The adversity we overcame was mostly created by us,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We would be less than sincere if we didn't acknowledge that.”
Likewise, we would be less than sincere if we didn't acknowledge Boswell was the last player we expected to be the hero. But every time the offense stalled inside Bengals territory, the Steelers turned to Boswell, and he booted the ball into the wind and through the uprights. He drilled field goals of 45, 49 and 49 yards in the first half and 40, 49 and 30 yards in the second half. The six field goals tied a team record held by Gary Anderson and Jeff Reed.
Tomlin praised Boswell for “making sure all of our possessions were productive ones.” The Steelers scored on seven of nine possessions, punting only once and ending the game by taking a knee in the victory formation.
The Steelers had cut the Bengals' lead to 17-6 in the second quarter when Erickson fielded the kickoff at the 2 and bounced outside to his left. He raced down the visiting sideline, with only Boswell to beat. Somehow, Boswell tripped the wide receiver at the 26.
“That's the saving grace, the last resort,” fullback Roosevelt Nix said of Boswell. “It's expected that he make that play if we can't, so that's just Boswell having a great day. This was a big win, and Boswell got the game ball for a good reason because he was the MVP. Six field goals itself is a great day for a kicker, let alone saving a touchdown.
“Who knows what would have happened?”
A touchdown could have changed the entire complexion of the game, giving the Steelers a three-possession deficit that would have forced them to take risks rather than wait for the Bengals to implode again. Instead, Cincinnati settled for a field goal and a 20-6 lead. They wouldn't score again and self-destructed in the second half, drawing four penalties on the Steelers' go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter capped by Roethlisberger's 17-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers.
“If we kept it close, we knew we'd always have a shot at the end,” said Boswell, who credited the offense and defense for fighting until the end. “They're the reason we won this, not the six field goals.”
That's true, but Boswell didn't just account for 18 points. He saved four more, which just so happened to be the difference in this must-win game. As much as anything, the Steelers won because their kicker made a touchdown-saving tackle. And that was the real kick in the teeth that took the bite out of the bungling Bengals.