Epic Bengals Meltdown Kills Comeback and Hands Game to Steelers

Martavis Bryant, Dre Kirkpatrick
The Associated Press

The Cincinnati Bengals lost their heads—and then they lost the game.

After coming back from a 15-0 fourth quarter deficit to go ahead 16-15, the Cincinnati Bengals blew it.

Vontaze Burfict’s vicious hit to Antonio Brown’s head awarded the Steelers a crucial 15 yards with 18 seconds remaining. The officials then flagged Adam “Pacman” Jones for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Instead of facing a desperate situation essentially out of field goal range with 18 ticks remaining, the Steelers, because of the boneheaded Bengal penalties, enjoyed field position within the 20. They opted to go for a gimme 35-yard field goal on first down rather than risk disaster with no time outs. Chris Boswell nailed the kick to effectively seal the game.

Burfict’s emotional play epitomized Cincinnati’s dramatic comeback and its epic meltdown. The hulking linebacker drove Ben Roethlisberger into the ground and out of the game in the second half (before Roethlisberger’s Wilis Reedesque return). He picked off a pass with 1:43 left in the game that figured to finish the Steelers before a Bengals fumble breathed life into Pittsburgh. But Burfict and the Bengals, who clawed back with emotion, got clobbered by those same emotions through needless penalties.

Even once the final whistle blew, Bengals players continued to operate with unchecked emotion. Jones posted an angry, expletive-filled video on Instagram cussing out the referees before deleting it.

The chaotic coda in the final two minutes served as a fitting end to a frenzied game. Hall of Fame player and Steelers assistant coach Mike Munchak got flagged in the first half for pushing a Bengals defensive player. Skirmishes broke out early and often. Flags flew. And Bengals fans pelted the field with debris. Even when injured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to the locker room on a cart, water bottles zoomed his way from the stands.

The Steelers travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning’s Broncos next week. The Bengals go home without a playoff win as they have done every season for the last quarter-century.