The Cincinnati Bengals put up a valiant effort, but it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who came away with an 18-16 win.
In a game that saw both teams have chances to put the game away and seal a win late, mistake after mistake allowed hopes to be kepy alive on both sidelines. In the end, it was the Bengals who made the final gaffe and the Steelers who capitalized to pull off the win.
Here is a look at our thoughts from the loss, the latest postseason disappointment for Cincinnati.
1. Freaking Injuries
The Bengals were so fortunate on the injury front for much of this season, but that changed dramatically down the stretch. The most obvious injury was to Andy Dalton, whose broken thumb likely cost the Bengals a first-round bye and even the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.
Despite that, Cincinnati finished the season 12-4 and had most of their guys healthy coming into this matchup with Pittsburgh. However, that wouldn't last as key Bengal after key Bengal were knocked out of the game.
Giovani Bernard suffered a concussion that knocked him out for the fourth quarter. Reggie Nelson missed the second half with an ankle injury. Wallace Gilberry, Jeremy Hill, Dre Kirkpatrick and Domata Peko missed parts of the game due to minor injuries. Kirkpatrick is now on crutches and Peko is in a walking boot.
And to be fair to the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger got hurt and missed parts of the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh was already without top running back DeAngelo Williams in addition to the host of key guys they've lost this season.
For the Bengals, the injury bug got them late in the season, whereas it plagued Pittsburgh throughout the year. The end result was two teams crawling to the finish line of this game, and it's hard to see Pittsburgh going on a deep postseason run.
2. Run Defense Fails Again
Andy Dalton has gotten much of the blame for Cincinnati's recent postseason struggles, but one area that's been bad in every playoff disaster has been the run defense. That unit has been abused on the ground in seemingly every postseason loss under Marvin Lewis, and the issue reared its ugly head once again.
The latest performance saw Pittsburgh, down to their third and fourth-string backs, rush for 167 yards and carry Pittsburgh's offense for most of the game. When Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint are gashing you, you've got problems.
And it's not like the Steelers' offensive line has been dominant. They're without their starting left tackle and center, and the run defense should have been the Bengals' last concern coming into this game. It's mind-boggling how much Cincinnati has struggled to stop the run in playoff games, and Marvin Lewis needs to figure out why, if he's around next season.
3. Fluke/Amazing Plays
It seems like every Bengals postseason loss has featured at least one amazing/fluke play go against them, but none may have been as insane as this catch by Martavis Bryant. With the Steelers facing a 2nd-and-goal situation from the 10-yard line, the Bengals desperately needed a stop and to hold Pitt to a least a field goal.
Roethlisberger dropped back and fired a bullet for the back corner of the end zone that looked like Bryant would be unable to haul in, but he ended up making about as good of a catch as you'll see:
I had to do a vine, I'm in awe of that Martavis Bryant TD https://t.co/IfOdG5wvpK— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 10, 2016
As if that wasn't enough, Jeremy Hill's fumble with less than two minutes left and the Bengals looking poised to ice the game was about as bad of a gaffe as you'll see...
Unless you saw the final 20 seconds when the Bengals committed not one but two personal foul penalties to allow the Steelers to kick a chip-shot field goal to win the game. Those are the kinds of plays you never see teams make, but the Bengals keep finding ways to be on the wrong end of them, whether the flags were deserved or not.
4. Don't Be 'That' Guy
Losses stink, and this one was easily one of the most frustrating defeats Cincinnati has ever suffered, but that doesn't give fans an excuse to do this:
Bengals fans threw garbage at Ben Roethlisberger as he was carted off after injury: https://t.co/0AWkW3QHOz pic.twitter.com/q0KueYmLzx— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 10, 2016
It doesn't matter how bad the officiating was (and it wasn't good in this game), it's never cool to lose your composure and do things like this. Injuries are not something to get joy from or celebrate. It continued with fans throwing objects onto the field late in the game and making themselves look foolish.
This was a poor reflection of Bengals fans.