Ouch. Cincinnati fans have to be crying in their Cheerios this morning after suffering a monumentally crushing loss yesterday at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seemingly in command after going up 16-15 late in the 4th quarter, and getting a pick from the volatile Vontzae Burfict. 1:30 left and in position to run out the clock, or at least go up by 4, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball away on the very first play.
A wounded Ben Roethlesberger came back from his own injury to lead a drive that included short passes, and questionable actions by Burfict and the always crazy Pacman Jones. Those 30 yards in penalties with 18 seconds left sealed the deal.
There was already heightened awareness around the bad blood between these teams, and both sides were ready to throw down at a moment’s notice. The coaching staff went so far as to create a barricade of sorts between the teams as they warmed up. Yet the refs let things get way out of hand when Giovanni Bernard was knocked cold with a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ryan Shazier. Instead of a penalty, Pittsburgh was awarded the ball on the fumble, but didn’t get the TD that should have been awarded as the whistle was blown.
Thing is, this seemed to wake up the scoreless Bengals as their comeback immediately followed the hit. Unfortunately, Burfict decided to head hunt Antonio Brown on an incompletion over the middle with time winding down, and Pacman bumped a ref while fighting with a Pittsburgh coach.
Curious to me is all the justification from Simms and the other idiotic announcers that the hit was clean on Bernard. There was a play earlier in the 3rd quarter where a Pittsburgh WR got hit after catching a ball over the middle. He took 3 steps and was leveled with a hit high on his shoulder. Thing is, the play was entirely in front of him. He saw the defender coming. Penalty? No. Bad call. Bernard was hit on his play with his back to Shazier, and Shazier closing at full speed. He caught it, turned around and was speared in his facemask. No penalty? Ridiculous. I’m as ambivalent as a lot of folks around the over-flagging of the game, but that was as blatant a spear as you can see. The refs then viewed the replay, not to check for the spearing, but for the fumble that ensued as Bernard was knocked unconscious. To me, this opened up the door for more head hunting and more reckless play. Which came to pass, to the detriment of the Bengals.
The NFL talks about player safety, but allows shit like this. If that was Brady/Manning running down the field, Shazier would have gotten the heave-ho. So, as bad as the fumble was, the refs played their part in this galling loss for Cincy. Cincy did themselves no favors by coming unglued, but both sides were over the line with late hits and shit.
And yes, the context for the fumble is, of course, Preston Riley, and Roger Craig. Two plays I still haven’t gotten over.