Bengals loss devastating, but not a “new low”

Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) reacts on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) reacts on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The meltdown in Paul Brown Stadium was the most heartbreaking loss in Bengals history, but this game is far from a new low for Cincinnati.

The Wild Card matchup between the Steelers and Bengals was an absolute tire fire. From the get-go, it seemed as though referees had no control of the game. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati continued their scuffle from their second regular-season matchup almost as soon as the game started. Both teams racked up penalties, took cheap shots and lost composure.

Steelers assistant coach Mike Munchak started things off, pulling on Reggie Nelson‘s hair after he made a tackle near Pittsburgh’s bench. It was a strange and unacceptable move to make, and it set the tone for what would be a game that ultimately makes people question the integrity of coaches, referees, players, fans, the media and ultimately, the NFL itself.

"“Coaches, your job on the sideline is to coach your players, not touch any other player…he should’ve just got out of the way” said former Jaguars running back and current NFL analyst, Maurice Jones-Drew."

The antics continued later on, after Jarvis Jones sacked A.J. McCarron. The Steelers made a great play, picking up what looked like a McCarron fumble, returning it to the end zone for six points. The return, however, was overruled. And because Dupree’s teammates, Bud Dupree and William Gay were charged with excessive celebration (a penalty that isn’t ever negated, despite a turnover overruling), the Steelers lost 15 yards from the spot of the recovery. Ultimately, the celebration may have cost Pittsburgh four points, as the Steelers only managed a field goal on the ensuing drive.

It became evident that Cincinnati was getting really sick of the Steelers. Both teams seemed to repeatedly try to push the boundaries after every play, getting in opponents’ faces and taunting. One circumstance, in particular, would’ve been a great opportunity for the referees to set the tone of the game.

Steelers guard David DeCastro blocked Vontaze Burfict for about five seconds after the end of a play, driving him into the ground.

The referees had a perfect chance to call offsetting penalties on both players, setting the tone and making it known that this kind of play wouldn’t be tolerated. However, nothing was called. Because of this, both teams kept trying to push the boundaries.

The spark that ignited the flame in what would become an utter dumpster fire, however, was a very questionable hit by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier, who played a tremendous game, flattened Giovani Bernard by hitting him with the crown of his helmet. Whether or not the play was definitively a penalty (there seems to be more evidence for this being a penalty than not a penalty), it was a call the referees needed to make. At this point, the referees lost control of the game.

Bernard exited the game after suffering a concussion from Shazier’s blow. Immediately following, teammates Jeremy Hill, Vontaze Burfict and several others confronted Shazier and teammate Antwon Blake, who seemed to be celebrating Bernard’s injury in the middle of the field.

This represented a total loss of composure for the Bengals, but it seemed warranted. Steelers players were ridiculing an injured Bengal and weren’t even penalized in doing so.

The no-call on Shazier’s hit not only stopped a Bengals in the red zone, but it also gave the Steelers the football back after Mike Tomlin challenged, contesting that Bernard fumbled the ball. The bigger injustice, however, was the referees not punishing the violent behavior of the Steelers. Every action triggers a response, and the Bengals delivered just that.

On the ensuing Steelers drive, Vontaze Burfict got around Pittsburgh’s line and sacked Ben Roethlisberger. The quarterback was pummeled to the ground, injuring his right shoulder. As Roethlisberger was carted off the field, a few Bengal fans began throwing water bottles and other objects towards the injured quarterback. This was disgraceful behavior, but it could’ve possibly been prevented had the referees taken control of the game. That’s not to say that the Bengals fans were in the wrong in this particular situation.

The Bengals rallied back on Pittsburgh, eventually taking a 16-15 lead. And when Vontaze Burfict picked off a pass with just over a minute to play, the game seemed all but over.

An utter loss of composure, however, changed the tide of the game. Jeremy Hill, still hyped up from a nice touchdown run, fumbled the ball, giving the Steelers another chance to make a comeback.

A chaotic game quickly turned into a meltdown on the ensuing drive. Vontaze Burfict was called for a very questionable unnecessary roughness penalty, Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter made his way towards the Bengals huddle, cursing out players and Adam Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in a confrontation with the Steelers coach.

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The referees simply didn’t call a fair game, which made this game go out of control. Burfict’s hit on

Antonio Brown

definitely wasn’t the cleanest hit in the world, but it was at almost the exact same level as Ryan Shazier’s hit on Giovani Bernard. Burfict’s hit was the second unnecessary roughness penalty called on the Bengals, along with

Shawn Williams

‘ hit (which was even

less warranting of a penalty


The referees should’ve called penalties on both Shazier and Burfict, but instead, they only called a penalty on Burfict. As a result, an infuriated Adam Jones, frustrated with Joey Porter–who shouldn’t have been on the field–drew a penalty for making incidental contact with a referee. Porter, whose beef with the Bengals goes way back, should’ve drawn a flag for being on the field, at the very least (not to mention, he was cursing out opposing players). Provided that Burfict’s hit was a penalty–which it shouldn’t have been in the first place, the correct action to take would have been to call offsetting penalties on Jones and Porter. Rather, the Steelers got the upper-hand once again.

Benefitting from great field position, Chris Boswell was able to end the madness with a chip-in field goal, giving the Steelers an 18-16 victory.

Fines, suspensions and possibly more are soon to come to players on both sides and both Steelers assistant coaches previously mentioned, but the most disgraceful part of the entire night occurred when six fans were arrested on assault charges.

The Bengals’ loss was devastating, and it will linger in people’s heads until next January, at the earliest. But this isn’t a new low for the Cincinnati Bengals.

With 56 wins from 2010-2015, the Bengals will only need 12 wins over the next four seasons to match their win total from 2000-2009. This seems more than likely. In addition, they’ll only need 25 wins to match their win total over the 1980’s, which means that this very well could be the best decade in Bengals history.

Yet fans still aren’t satisfied with the fact that the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in over 25 years–a fair frustration. But would beating the Steelers and losing to the Patriots really make this season any more rewarding? ESPN would have still found a way to tie in the Bengals’ lack of postseason success the next time Cincinnati entered the playoffs, so it doesn’t seem like the playoff monkey will hop off the Bengals’ back until they can win a Super Bowl.

Next: Bengals: Top 10 Games of 2015 Season

This is not a new low for the Cincinnati Bengals. If you truly think it is, you should seriously consider evaluating your fandom.