Last January, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers played one of the most memorable games in NFL history – not so much for the quality of play as for the series of late-game blunders and lack of composure that cost the Bengals a game they should have won. With the teams meeting again Sunday, it’s time to revisit the six dumbest things Cincinnati did — in order, in the span of 2 minutes of game action — during an 18-16 loss that extended its string of wild-card playoff defeats to seven under coach Marvin Lewis.
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Vontaze Burfict's tunnel-run celebration
Trailing 16-15 and with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting treatment for an injured shoulder, backup Landry Jones threw an interception to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict with 1:43 left. Burfict — who will become a central character in this story — ran about 90 yards into the Bengals' tunnel with four teammates and excessively celebrated what seemed like a sure game-winner. After all, Cincinnati simply had to run out the clock.
Getty ImagesDylan Buell
Jeremy Hill's unimaginable fumble
Cincinnati took over possession at the Steelers' 26 with 1:43 left, and running back Jeremy Hill fumbled on the very next play. Still, the ball was recovered on the 12, which meant that Pittsburgh still had to drive a long way for a game-winning field goal. Fortunately for the Steelers, they'd get some help.
Vontaze Burfict's brutal hit on Antonio Brown
With Roethlisberger back in the game, the Steelers converted a fourth-and-3 at their own 41, but they were down to only 22 seconds left at the Cincinnati 47 when the Bengals got serious about giving the game away. Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Antonio Brown, but Burfict ran shoulder-first into Brown's head on the play, laying him flat on the turf and drawing a 15-yard-penalty. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (more on him in a minute) thought the Steelers' Pro Bowl wide receiver deserved an award for acting. “Nah, Antonio Brown was not hurt,” Jones told reporters after the game. “I know he was faking it. Go back and look at the play. If you go back in slow motion, you tell me Vontaze hit him in the head, or if his shoulder pads barely touched him.”
The penalty left the ball at the 32, now in field goal range, and this is where things got downright ugly. Burfict — who won't play this Sunday because he's serving a three-game suspension for the hit that gave Brown a concussion (no, he wasn't faking) — argued the call vehimently with the refs. Coach Marvin Lewis tried to defend his linebacker's actions after the loss. "He's trying to go over and defend the play," Lewis told reporters. "There's a lot of balls out there, plays today, calls went different ways. ... [The officials] deemed that to be a hit to the head, and others not today." But with the emotion already at a fever pitch, Burfict's hit and his subsequent reaction fueled the flames for Adam Jones to get involved.
Adam Jones joining in ...
Whie Brown was being helped off the field, Jones compounded Burfict's gaffe by arguing with Steelers assistant Jerry Porter and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, too (allowing the Steelers to move from the 47 to the 17 on an incomplete pass). Chris Boswell's 35-yard chip shot field goal ensued, and the Bengals had blown a sure victory almost as quickly as they blew their tops.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
... And then taking it to a whole 'nother level
Adam Jones, of course, wasn't done. He took to Instagram after the loss and launched a profanity-laced tirade — further cementing the idea that the Bengals not only lost the game, but they also may have lost their minds. "The (expletive) ref did a horrible (expletive) job," Jones said. "You got Joey Porter in the middle of the (expletive) field talking (expletive) to everybody and then when somebody says something to him ... he isn't even supposed to be on the (expletive) field." Eight months later, as the bitter rivals prepare to meet again, it's the Bengals' vitriole, not the Steelers' victory, that everyone remembers the most.