All week long the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers vowed their AFC Wild-Card Playoff game wouldn’t be as filled with fights and penalties as their Dec. 13 brawl, and they were right.
There were more.
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With injured players falling throughout the game, the biggest thud came when a pair of penalty flags fell to the ground in the final 20 seconds. The 15-yarders against Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones moved Pittsburgh into easy field goal position, and Chris Boswell nailed a game-winning 35-yard to lift the Steelers to an 18-16 victory that extended Cincinnati’s run of playoff futility to 25 seasons.
Down 15-0 and unable to do anything offensively, the Cincinnati offense got a spark from the defense when Burfict sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and knocked him out of the game with a shoulder injury late in the third quarter.
The Bengals lost Pro Bowl safety Reggie Nelson (ankle), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (quad), running back Giovani Bernard (concussion) and defensive end Wallace Gilberry (undisclosed) to injuries.
But the Roethlisberger hit was the biggest. After it happened, AJ McCarron led the Bengals on three consecutive scoring drives, the last of which ended with him hitting A.J. Green for a go-ahead 25-yard touchdown with 1:50 to go.
The Steelers offense managed just 19 yards on its first 12 plays after Roethlisberger left on a cart, and the game appeared to be over when Burfict picked off Steelers backup Landry Jones one play after the Green touchdown.
But Jeremy Hill gave the ball back on a fumble one play later, giving Pittsburgh one last chance from its own 9 with 1:23 to go.
The Steelers got to the Cincinnati 47 but were out of timeouts with time running thin. That’s when Burfict hit Antonio Brown head to head for the first 15-yard penalty after an incomplete pass, then Jones drew another 15-yarder in the scrum that followed.
The Steelers committed 10 penalties for 142 yards, 3 shy of the NFL postseason record. Five were of the 15-yard variety, including one on coach Mike Munchak for pulling Nelson’s hair on the sideline after a play in the first quarter.
The Bengals had eight penalties for 79 yards.
They only combined for nine penalties in the Dec. 13 game that resulted in nearly $140,000 in fines.
Pittsburgh will head to No. 1 Denver next Sunday, while the Bengals will head into another long offseason full of questions about their ability to win in January.
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