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Bengals hand Steelers a playoff victory

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A one-sentence summary of the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Wild Card game would read: Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to give the Steelers a comeback 18-16 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati on Saturday night.

Those who watched the game know that a great deal more happened over the previous 59 minutes and 46 seconds. Especially the final 1:36.

The game will be remembered for the mental toughness of Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his teammates. It will equally be remembered, if not more, for the meltdown of two physically gifted, but emotionally troubled, Bengals.

These two teams hate each other and the chippy play from the beginning made that clear. The Steelers worked their way through that, and a steady rain, to take a 6-0 lead at halftime.

It could have been worse, as they settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. The Bengals had two first downs and 56 total yards.

Pittsburgh extended the lead to 15-0 on a spectacular touchdown catch by Martavis Bryant. Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin went for the 2-point conversion, but failed.

Shortly before the third period ended, Roethlisberger left the game after being sacked by Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict’s impact on the game was far from over.

Bengals’ quarterback A.J. McCarron, starting for the injured Andy Dalton, struggled until the fourth quarter. In the final period, he led the Bengals to 16 points on three drives.

McCarron and A.J. Green, hooked up on a 25-yard scoring pass with 1:50 left to put the Bengals on top, 16-15. The drive started on the Steelers’ 45 following a nice punt return by Adam Jones. Jones’s impact on the game was far from over.

On the Steelers’ first play after the touchdown, Burfict intercepted Landry Jones, who had come on in relief of Roethlisberger at the Pittsburgh 26. Most thought the game was over, but on the first play, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball right back to Pittsburgh with 1:36 left.

Roethlisberger miraculously re-entered the game despite an obviously shaky shoulder. It was obvious he could not throw long.

“Coach asked me if I could do it,” said Roethlisberger. “I said I’d give it everything I got.

With 22 seconds remaining, Burfict gave Steelers’ receiver Antonio Brown a cheap-shot hit, injuring Brown and drawing a 15-yard penalty. During the ensuing gathering around Brown, Jones also drew a 15-yard penalty. Both Burfict and Jones have had issues on the field before.

Boswell then kicked the game-winning field goal.

“It’s disappointing,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “We destructed on ourself, both offense and defense together, so that’s disappointing.”

Statistics do not matter in this game other than penalty yards. Even with the late flags totaling 30 yards, the Bengals were flagged 79 yards in penalties, while Pittsburgh had 142 yards.

Turnovers were huge, especially the fumble by Hill that gave Pittsburgh new life.

“We’ll take this victory and move forward,” said Tomlin. “We feel very fortunate to have gotten it.”

For Cincinnati, it’s a bitter ending. For Pittsburgh, it’s off to Denver to face the Broncos next Sunday. Roethlisberger’s status is far from certain.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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