Buried under the unrelenting controversy from the conclusion of Saturday's game is the impressive fourth quarter performance of backup quarterback AJ McCarron. In only his fourth career start, his first in the postseason. McCarron helped engineer a fourth quarter comeback, transitioning a 15-point deficit into a one-point lead with 16 fourth quarter points. During that final period, McCarron completed nine of 15 passes for 98 yards passing, a touchdown and a 101.5 passer rating.
More impressive was the intense pressure the second-year quarterback faced on multiple occasions during the game's final period. There's the arching throw between two defenders where tight end Tyler Eifert made a diving reception, converting a third-and-nine scenario into a first down. Mike Nugent slammed a 36-yard field goal six plays later, reducing Pittsburgh's lead from eight points to five.
However, the following touchdown drive staged the most impressive moments for the young quarterback.
Cincinnati, down 15-10, had fourth down from the Steelers' 31-yard line with 2:46 remaining in the game. Failure to secure a first down would likely mean another postseason loss. At the very least, Pittsburgh could wipe out significant time from the clock, and based on Cincinnati's lack of big-yardage plays on Saturday, a win would be imperceptible if the Bengals were unable to convert.
They needed two yards.
They got nine.
After taking the shotgun snap and feeling the weight of an unblocked blitzer, McCarron flipped the football to an uncovered Marvin Jones, who picked up nine yards to get to the Steelers' 28-yard line.
Following a scramble and incomplete to Mohamed Sanu (who sat on a dig route while McCarron expected his receiver to continue), the Bengals had third down from the Steelers' 25-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the game.
McCarron pump faked right and targeted the front left pylon, where A.J. Green concluded his fade. Green hauled in the football at the Steelers' two-yard line, ducked under the head-hunting Mike Mitchell, and easily scored the go-ahead touchdown, giving Cincinnati a 16-15 lead with 1:50 remaining on the clock.
Despite an awful call on the two-point conversion, Cincinnati's defense immediately handed the ball back the offense with Vontaze Burfict's interception of Landry Jones. Unfortunately, Jeremy Hill's fumble and 30 yards of conduct penalties gave Pittsburgh the eventual win after Chris Boswell's 35-yard chip shot field goal.
Regardless, McCarron's fourth quarter performance shouldn't be forgotten in this mud.