Spot On: Brown, Burfict and a Bengals Implosion
Russell S. Baxter
Spot On: Brown, Burfict and a Bengals Implosion
By Brandon Fazzolari
Special to Pro Football Guru
With all due respect to the 2014 Green Bay Packers who lost at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game and the 2016 Atlanta Falcons who blew it in Super Bowl LI, the vote here for the most spectacular implosion in NFL history goes to the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals.
This week, the 0-10 Bengals have nothing on the line when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Four seasons ago, the stakes were much higher. Let’s a take look back at what turned out to be part football/part circus.
How They Got Here
Marvin Lewis’ Bengals possessed depth and talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Andy Dalton was on a roll over the first half of the campaign as Cincinnati started the season with an 8-0 record. Consider this roster he had to work with: A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, Giovanni Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead. They also were excellent on both lines, featured a who’s who at defensive back and a fiery, yet effective, linebacker named Vontaze Burfict.
Two prime time losses by a combined seven points and two blowout wins left the Bengals at 10-2 when Pittsburgh came to town. Unfortunately, Dalton broke his thumb while making a tackle after throwing an interception, turning Cincinnati’s season upside down in an instant. The Steelers battered backup AJ McCarron while grabbing a 33-20 victory.
The Bengals just missed the top seed in the AFC thanks to a Monday night loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in overtime. They grabbed the third seed and an opportunity to host the Steelers during the NFL’s Wild Card weekend.
As seasons go, this was a topsy-turvy affair for Pittsburgh. They lost Ben Roethlisberger for four starts, Le’Veon Bell for most of the season and Maurkice Pouncey for all of it. They defeated some of the very best squads in football but lost twice to the 5-11 Ravens. They won and lost multiple games at the buzzer. Through it all, though, they finished 10-6 and made it to the postseason because, after all, under Mike Tomlin, they always finish with a winning record. On the last Sunday of the regular season, they needed to win and have Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills defeat the New York Jets. Both happened. Thus, the stage was set for Pittsburgh at Cincinnati.
One Crazy Ending
The first three quarters of this matchup was mundane and rather forgettable. The Steelers led 15-0 and the Bengals with McCarron at the helm looked perfectly incapable of moving the football. The play of the game going into the fourth was a sensational Martavis Bryant touchdown reception. It has to be seen to be believed. However, by the end of this contest, it would prove to be a mere afterthought. Sure, there were a few scraps here and there, but nothing exceptional in a Steelers/Bengals game of the era.
On the last play of the third quarter, Roethlisberger was knocked from the game by a Burfict sack, a hit that sparked the partisans to life. In fact, this was reported by Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated: “Among the loudest cheers of the night to that point came when Roethlisberger was carted to the locker room, his throwing arm immobile…debris flying in his direction from the stands.”
Hill scored to get the Bengals on the board. Following a field goal, Pittsburgh’s lead was down to a tenuous five points. There were two minutes remaining. It was A.J. McCarron versus Landry Jones. When McCarron hit Green for a 25-yard score, it looked like Cincinnati would win their first postseason game in 25 years. That appeared almost certain when Jones was picked off by Burfict. Bengal defenders were so joyful, they dashed through the tunnel off the playing field.
Their elation was short-lived, however, as Ryan Shazier stripped Hill of the ball with 1:23 left on a run that would have iced it. Roethlisberger came back into the game and basically threw four screen passes which put the Steelers at the midfield with 22 seconds to play. Roethlisberger drove a slant with his injured arm in the direction of Brown. Burfict nailed Brown as he passed by the smallish-receiver and knocked him out prompting a personal foul penalty. Then, as trainers attended to Brown, Adam “Pacman” Jones exchanged words with several members of the opposition, including assistant coach Joey Porter. Jones came out of the incident with the only penalty, bumping the Steelers even closer to a chip shot. The Bengals had lost their cool when they needed most to keep it.
Pittsburgh prevailed thanks to the 30 yards given to them by means of unnecessary penalties. The gutty Steelers were defeated by Denver the following week with no Bell, no Brown and Roethlisberger at 50 percent at best. The Bengals, on the other hand, have drifted into oblivion and own a dismal 19-38-1 record since that awful night in their history.
Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.