You know it's gonna be a good one when the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers square off.
Well, the fourth quarter of this Wild Card matchup between AFC North rivals was a doozy, but the first three quarters were about as ugly as you can imagine. Sadly, so too was the ending as the Steelers pulled off an 18-16 win.
Here's a look at our winners and losers from the game.
There may not be a better safety coming off the bench in the NFL than Shawn Williams. That's how well he's played this season whenever George Iloka or Reggie Nelson were injured, and that continued against the Steelers.
This time around, it was Nelson who went down in the first half and left Williams to finish the game. Williams again held his own and made several nice plays, including this big hit that was unfairly (in my opinion) ruled a personal foul.
With both Nelson and Iloka set to hit free agency this offseason, Williams has made a strong case to be a starter next season and could make it easier for the Bengals to let one of Iloka or Nelson go and re-sign other key players.
The Bengals' offense was a mess for much of this game, but Jeremy Hill did his best to keep his team afloat. He was the main ball carrier for much of the night, and his role only increased once Giovani Bernard went down.
Hill's biggest play actually came on Cincinnati's first offensive drive of the second half and it appeared to put the Bengals in position to possibly take the lead.
Best offensive play of the night. https://t.co/8JYlKKnrDX— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) January 10, 2016
And then he scored the Bengals' first touchdown to help spark what appeared to be a miraculous rally.
Touchdown!!! Bengals down 15-7. https://t.co/gGjZBVf7m8— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) January 10, 2016
Hill also chipped in three catches for 27 yards, and most of his yards came in the second half as he helped the Bengals rally from a 15-0 deficit to take a 16-15 lead...
But oh...that fumble... The fumble that sparked a series of unfortunate events, right when it looked like the Bengals were going to run away with the game.
Still, Hill had a magnificent game to that point, and one play should not completely negate what he had done for the first 58 minutes of the game. He was the offensive MVP and a big reason why the Bengals had a chance to win the game.
Reggie Nelson (and his hair)
The first half was a memorable one for Reggie Nelson for all the wrong reasons. It began when Steelers' offensive line coach Mike Munchak appeared to pull Nelson by his dreads as Nelson ran onto the Pittsburgh sideline after a play and collided with Munchak, who tried moving Nelson aside and grabbed onto a handful of his dreads in the process.
Munchak was flagged on the play, which occurred in the second quarter. Nelson later injured his ankle as he was sacking Ben Roethlisberger, and never returned to the game.
To be fair to both quarterbacks, the rain made this a very difficult game to pass in, but even that doesn't make up for how bad AJ McCarron was at times on Saturday night. After a promising 2-1 stretch in his first three NFL starts, McCarron looked like he was back to the guy who struggled during much of the Week 14 Bengals/Steelers game when he came off the bench.
That was a game that McCarron didn't have much preparation for though, something he had this time around, but this would be easily his worst game as a pro. He held the ball too long, missed open receivers, fumbled multiple times, and threw a terrible interception near the end of the first half that led to the Steelers' first score of the game.
No one expected McCarron to play great in his first postseason start, but this was a disaster, and it helped put Cincinnati in a 15-0 hole. McCarron has too many errors in a game that could have been won with one less...
But the Bengals as a whole blew this game, and it was a host of dumb personal fouls, including 30-yards worth of penalties on one play, with less than two minutes remaining, that allowed Pittsburgh to steal a win. I'm not sure I've ever seen a collapse in any sport like what the Bengals just pulled off. Regardless of whether the penalties should have been called, you can't put yourself in that position, ever, especially with less than two minutes remaining and the the game on the line.
That was some kind of special that we're sadly going to see reruns of for many years to come, and the Bengals have no one to blame but themselves.