7 plays that define Bengals' comeback and collapse

BY Ross Jones • January 10, 2016

Much of the first three quarters of Saturday night's AFC wild card game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals was an uneventful, one-sided affair.

Then, the game dramatically shifted and the Bengals were able to gain momentum and mount a comeback. 

After scoring the go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter, the Bengals appeared to have the game won. Then it all fell apart amid Cincinnati's mistakes as Pittsburgh escaped with an 18-16 win.

So, how did the Bengals let a first postseason win in 25 years slip through their hands? Here's how they went from fired up to going down in flames in seven plays.


Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier delivered a punishing hit to Bengals running back Giovani Bernard in the third quarter that seemed to fire up Cincy. Some observers believed Shazier should've been flagged for unnecessary roughness, arguing that Bernard was defenseless and Shazier appeared to lead with his helmet. Bernard was knocked out of the game. Shazier wasn't flagged. And the Steelers, leading 15-0, recovered the fumble. But as players from both teams got heated at the middle of the field, the Bengals found the spark they needed. 


Linebacker Vontaze Burfict seemingly was incensed by the hit on Bernard. He then delivered a bone-crunching blow to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the next series. Burfict drove the Steelers QB to the ground legally, but the hit caused a shoulder injury that forced Roethlisberger out of the game. 


After three straight fourth-quarter scores by the Bengals, and with Roethlisberger getting treatment for an injured throwing shoulder, backup quarterback Landry Jones threw an interception to Burfict with 1:43 left that seemingly sealed the game. The fourth-year linebacker picked off the pass and ran directly into the Bengals' tunnel with five teammates. 


Not long after Burfict's interception, running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball on first down on a hit by Shazier and Pittsburgh was able to fall on it. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld as the ball was jarred free before Hill's knee touched the ground. 


Despite being in pain, Roethisberger got back in the game and piloted Pittsburgh's offense on its final drive. Facing a fourth-and-3, Roethlisberger executed a perfect pass for a catch-and-run by Antonio Brown for the first down at the Bengals 47 with 28 seconds left.


The very next play, Roethlisberger threw a pass over the middle to Brown. As Brown attempted to catch the ball, it was Burfict who came across the middle delivering an ugly, late hit to the head. Burfict was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. While Brown was being helped off the field, cornerback Pacman Jones was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct for jawing at Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Listen to his explanation here. It was quite the unraveling.


With 14 seconds remaining, the Steelers had a chip shot to make. Second-year kicker Chris Boswell drilled the 35-yard field goal to give the Steelers the lead and ultimately a second-round date with the Denver Broncos.

"It was a really emotional game, I'm not surprised," Shazier said. "They seen the dam breaking and their emotions got to them."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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