The Pittsburgh Steelers coughed up a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, but a miraculous final drive by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger secured an 18-16 win for the Black and Yellow after the Cincinnati Bengals took a one-point lead with less than two minutes to play in Saturday's AFC Wild Card Game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Roethlisberger was briefly knocked out of the game after suffering an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, and he appeared to be done for the day after backup Landry Jones tossed an interception to give Cincinnati a shot to ice the game.
However, a Jeremy Hill fumble on the ensuing drive gave Roethlisberger one final crack to march downfield, and it resulted in a game-winning 35-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell with 14 seconds left, which was set up by personal fouls from Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones.
ESPN Stats & Info noted the penalties swung the result in Pittsburgh's favor:
Those two penalties cost the Bengals 49 points of win probability. They had a 76% chance to win before the two personal fouls.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
The Bengals spun their tires for three quarters on offense, but Roethlisberger’s injury appeared to spark them back to life. After Hill punched in a one-yard touchdown and the Bengals tacked on a field goal to make it 15-10, they seized control of the momentum.
A.J. Green proceeded to haul in the go-ahead 25-yard touchdown, which the NFL shared on Twitter:
But Cincinnati’s defense ultimately cost the Bengals a shot at their first playoff win since 1991.
The Steelers came up with the game’s most memorable play when wide receiver Martavis Bryant hauled in a miraculous 10-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, as shown by the NFL:
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.—who knows a thing or two about spectacular receptions—was impressed by Bryant's concentration in the end zone:
What a play— Odell Beckham Jr (@OBJ_3) January 10, 2016
Roethlisberger finished 18-of-31 for 229 yards and a touchdown, while running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman rushed for 58 and 65 yards, respectively. As always, Antonio Brown led Pittsburgh's receiving corps with seven catches for 119 yards.
Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron flashed plenty of poise on Cincinnati's late go-ahead drive and finished 23-of-41 for 212 yards, a touchdown and an interception in place of the injured Andy Dalton (thumb).
On a slippery playing surface dampened by heavy rain, offense was elusive for both sides before the Steelers got on the board with a pair of field goals to take a 6-0 lead late in the second quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the last time Pittsburgh had shut out an opponent in the first half of a playoff game was in 1979 against the Miami Dolphins.
The game's first eight possessions resulted in punts, and as that stat would indicate, early proceedings were defined by plenty of defense. To further emphasize the point, it's worth noting Cincinnati compiled two first downs and 10 rushing yards in the first half.
ESPN Stats & Info broke down the sloppy AFC North slugfest in the second quarter:
Out of the first 43 plays in Steelers-Bengals, 20 were for no gain or a loss of yards— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
If there was a positive on the offensive side of the ball in the first half, it was the Steelers running game. Toussaint and Todman comprised Pittsburgh's patchwork committee with DeAngelo Williams nursing a foot injury, and they were surprisingly solid, as NFL Network's Brian Billick observed:
It's just plug & play at RB for the #Steelers. Can grind out yards on the ground no matter who is back there. Seems to always be the case.— Brian Billick (@CoachBillick) January 10, 2016
The Steelers were able to move the chains with more regularity after Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (ankle) and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (quad) suffered injuries, but the Pittsburgh offense never fully resembled the high-octane attack that gave opposing secondaries nightmares throughout the regular season.
After warding off a disaster Saturday night, the Steelers are set to clash with the Denver Broncos next weekend in a divisional-round showdown.
For now, all of the focus should be on Roethlisberger. Jones completed just two of five passes for 11 yards and an interception against the Bengals, and it's safe to say the Steelers will have a hard time solving Denver's vaunted secondary without Big Ben at the controls.
But if Roethlisberger is healthy enough to give it a go when the two teams meet in the Rocky Mountains, no one should discount the Steelers.
ESPN Stats & Info provided some staggering facts and figures once Saturday's result was finalized:
Worst Playoff Record as Head Coach- NFL History Marvin Lewis 0-7 Jim Mora 0-6— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
Ben Roethlisberger: 4th postseason game-winning drive in 4th quarter or OT since 2004 (only Tom Brady and Eli Manning, 5, have more)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016
#Steelers initially thought Roethlisberger had broken collarbone. taken for x-rays. Negative. Eventually returned, but took no warmup throws— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) January 10, 2016
"Coach came to me and asked if I could do it," Roethlisberger said, per the team's official Twitter account. "I said I'd give it my best shot."
Meanwhile, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had to face the music following another heartbreaking postseason loss, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website:
Marvin: we didn't put the game away. We destructed ourselves— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) January 10, 2016
After his costly fumble opened the door for Pittsburgh, Hill took to Twitter and apologized to the Cincinnati fanbase:
This ones on me... This city this organization deserves better only thing to do is continue to fight and come back stronger— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) January 10, 2016
Back in the locker room, Burfict explained the confounding series of events that allowed Pittsburgh to capture the win, per the New York Post's Brian Costello:
Vontaze Burfict said Steelers coach Joey Porter was on the field yelling at the Bengals. That led to Pacman Jones' penalty— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) January 10, 2016
"We're not a perfect group, but we did enough to move on," Tomlin said, per the Steelers' Twitter account. "Hopefully we can do the same thing next week."