Disgraceful Bengals Loss in Ugly Playoff Could Cost Coach Marvin Lewis His JobJanuary 10, 2016
CINCINNATI — There are the Bungles. Then there is what the Bungles did against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. It was worse than the Bungles. It was pathetic, disgraceful and ugly. And it all could cost Marvin Lewis his job.
As the Steelers ran off the field with a stunning, staggering and incomprehensible 18-16 victory, Bengals fans, by the dozens, threw water bottles and other debris at the Steelers. Some of the objects were lobbed from high up in the stands, posing fairly dangerous threats.
The Steelers ducked and dodged as they escaped the mayhem. It was the third time in the game fans threw objects on the field. One of the others came when Ben Roethlisberger was being carted off the field. Classy.
The game featured a variety of personal fouls and several near-brawls in one of the dirtiest and ugliest contests in the modern era of the sport. This wasn't a playoff showcase for the NFL. It was like a series of outtakes from The Longest Yard.
This game was an embarrassment. It will go down as a low point in league history.
What exactly happened, we'll get to in a moment. The larger picture here is the most important. There are two undeniable facts: Lewis is now the first coach in NFL history to be 0-7 in the playoffs. That alone puts him on the hot seat.
But where the most scrutiny will come for him is in the review of how Bengals players acted in the final minute.
The first devastating blow to the Bengals came when Vontaze Burfict hit a defenseless Antonio Brown, drawing a 15-yard penalty when the incomplete pass would have given the Steelers 2nd-and-10 from the Bengals 47 with 18 seconds to go. Brown suffered a concussion on the play, per Mike Tomlin.
Adam "Pacman" Jones was furious after the call, as members of both teams jawed while Brown was being treated. Jones erupted in the vicinity of officials for several minutes, making contact with one of them. They finally flagged him for his tirade. It's true the presence of assistant coach Joey Porter being on the field was an irritant and against the rules but that doesn't excuse Jones.
This gave Pittsburgh 15 more yards, setting up a 35-yard field-goal attempt. Chris Boswell connected. The Bengals had handed the Steelers the win.
This is where things get interesting for Lewis and the Bengals. Does Lewis want hothead dopes on his team like Burfict and Jones? Or are they forced on him? Or is there some blend of the two? In some ways, it's almost irrelevant. Lewis will take the blame.
It's difficult to imagine even the conservative Bengals ownership keeping Lewis. Something like this simply cannot go without serious repercussions.
If you think Jones was apologetic, well, he wasn't. He went on a profane tirade on his Instagram account. Jones would later delete the post, replacing it with a mellower reaction. But, you know, this is the Internet.
There will be fines. Many, many, many fines. Powerball-level fines of some players.
Overall, the game started ugly. Retinas burned. Sensibilities were taxed. Rain fell, dreads were pulled and bottles were thrown by fans. At times, the game teetered on the brink of anarchy.
One particularly frightening moment came in the third quarter. Giovani Bernard was hit hard, helmet to chin, by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Bernard was knocked unconscious on a clearly illegal hit. Incredibly, no penalty was called.
Steelers players began to celebrate Shazier's play. Perhaps unaware of the severity of the injury to Bernard. Perhaps not caring because these two teams hate each other. The celebrating incensed some of the Bengals, and a scrum developed at midfield. At that point, the refs came pretty close to completely losing control.
Then, after Roethlisberger injured his shoulder, he was moved to a cart, and as he was being driven off the field, some fans started throwing objects at him. It was classless and vile.
Amid the chaos, it had been the Steelers who separated themselves from the Bengals on the scoreboard, propelled largely by the play of their receivers. Martavis Bryant had one of the catches of the year—a between-and-behind-the-knees scoop on which he did a flip but still held on to the football.
The Bengals made a furious comeback with AJ McCarron, scoring all their points in the fourth quarter. He was poised and, actually, brilliant. In his postgame news conference, he was poised and calm. It was weird seeing a young backup QB show a veteran like Jones how to behave. Jeremy Hill, like McCarron a 2014 draft pick, was also a credit to the Bengals in the wake of his key mistake, classily apologizing for his late-game fumble.
The ugliness of the game overshadowed what were true heroics by Roethlisberger, who came back to lead the final drive with a bad shoulder. It overshadowed the overall resiliency of the Bengals.
There were nine personal fouls. One Bengals player ran onto the field to get into some fight action with his cape still on and was penalized. He apparently thought he was wearing a cloaking device. Steelers assistant Mike Munchak pulled the dreads of a Bengals player on the sideline and was penalized.
There were scuffles and kerfuffles, and as a steady rain fell, the ugliness and cheapness of the game continued. The play itself was often subpar. For most of the fourth quarter, it was McCarron vs. Landry Jones. Not exactly Johnny Unitas vs. Joe Namath.
After the game, Burfict didn't say much. He blew me off.
He should have apologized, because he and Jones might have gotten their coach fired.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.