The Cincinnati Bengals had a golden opportunity to end their playoff woes and knock their division rival out of the postseason, but they failed to close the deal.
It was as brutal of a loss as the Bengals have had in recent memory, and it's one that has the national media not holding back. This was about as ugly of a game as you'll ever see, and one that fans, players and coaches should be ashamed of, as Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman writes.
As the Steelers ran off the field with a stunning, staggering and incomprehensible 18-16 victory, Bengals fans, by the dozens, threw water bottles and other debris at the Steelers. Some of the objects were lobbed from high up in the stands, posing fairly dangerous threats.
The Steelers ducked and dodged as they escaped the mayhem. It was the third time in the game fans threw objects on the field. One of the others came when Ben Roethlisberger was being carted off the field. Classy.
The game featured a variety of personal fouls and several near-brawls in one of the dirtiest and ugliest contests in the modern era of the sport. This wasn't a playoff showcase for the NFL. It was like a series of outtakes from The Longest Yard.
This game was an embarrassment. It will go down as a low point in league history.
Some egregious personal foul penalties by two of the Bengals' best players led to their demise, and while Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones are great players, they're also very risky ones that can sting Cincinnati, as SB Nation's Roger Sherman writes.
Burfict and Jones are football scorpions. Burfict's playing style is built on his vicious hitting capabilities. Jones feeds off the fire that's gotten him in trouble in the past to turn into a shutdown corner. The Bengals have put up with them because of how good they are, and it has benefited them.
But occasionally, they will sting. And you can never convince them not to.
You can criticize the players all you want, but at the end of the day, the coaches also must be held responsible for what their players do.
That's the case with Marvin Lewis, and CBS Sports' Pete Prisco thinks the heat needs to be on Lewis for his team having a complete meltdown.
And now the real question comes into play: Who was responsible for this mess? There will be calls for coach Marvin Lewis' head, and this is ultimately his mess. As the coach, he has to control his players.
Yes, there are veterans who lead too. But when players like Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, the guilty parties on the two late personal fouls that put the ball into field-goal range, aren't reigned in, there are issues. Burfict got his penalty for a head hit to Antonio Brown, then Jones got one for pushing Steelers coach Joey Porter during the delay in play to get Brown off the field.
Both players have had their fair share of troubles in their career, both are considered hotheads of sorts, and both sometimes let their emotions get the best of them on the field.
That's on Lewis now. They are his guys. He was short with his answers at the podium after the game, and when asked about the Burfict hit he said, "It was a penalty because they threw the flag."
NFL.com's Mike Silver didn't hold back either on Lewis while wondering if this was the Bengals head man's last stand.
The Steelers' 18-16 victory, secured by Chris Boswell's 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining, left some Bengals players enraged and others dumbfounded; and it even left the immediate future of 13th-year coach Marvin Lewis, now 0-7 in the postseason, somewhat in doubt.
After all, Lewis' team squandered a sure victory not only because one player (running back Jeremy Hill) lost the football on an unconscionable fumble, but because two others -- Burfict and Jones -- lost their minds at the worst possible time. Fair or not, the glaring lack of discipline that resulted in consecutive 15-yard penalties against those two defenders to set up Boswell's kick reflect back on Lewis, leading to natural speculation by players and coaches inside the Cincinnati locker room that it might cost the coach his job.
Instead, the third-seeded Bengals choked away a celebration that would have been more raucous than any since their second and final AFC Championship Game victory in January of 1989. And they did it in a manner that will live in infamy for at least another quarter century, perhaps longer.
But could the Bengals actually part ways with Marvin Lewis? And who would be his replacement? Fox Sports' Sid Saraf thinks offensive coordinator Hue Jackson should be the guy.
Jackson has directed a strong and balanced Bengals offense for two seasons, and he gets a lot of the credit for turning quarterback Andy Dalton into more than a game manager. It's not surprising he's drawing considerable interest from other NFL teams for their vacant head coaching jobs. Cincinnati shouldn't just roll over and let Jackson get poached, but it likely will be impossible to keep him at offensive coordinator. It might be time to make a tough decision. Head coach Marvin Lewis just wrapped up his 13th season at the helm and is still without a playoff win. Even worse, his team self-destructed in the most embarrassing and ugly way Saturday night. The Bengals could put a new voice in the big chair and keep the talented Jackson from coming back to haunt them with another team by executing a peaceful transition of power.
Bill Bender of the Sporting News used that dreaded 'Bungles' name in his assessment of how badly the Bengals lost their cool.
Jones posted a profanity-laced Instagram hot take. Burfict answered most questions with "I don’t know." So did Lewis, for that matter. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch can get away with that act. The Seahawks have won something. Jones tried to pin blame on Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter. Neither Burfict nor Lewis showed enough accountability for the meltdown.
All that does is reinforce the entire undisciplined "Bungles" motif again, one that Lewis worked to dispel over the better part of a decade.
Despite all the howling for Lewis' job amid another playoff debacle, he's probably not going anywhere. This is a franchise that's been to five straight playoffs because of the stability Lewis brings to this team, as ESPN's Coley Harvey writes.
And at 0-7 lifetime in the postseason, Lewis has been part of it all. Yes, it's a BIG issue that MUST get rectified if the Bengals are ever going to get back to the Super Bowl. An untimely fumble and a couple of poor decisions from two of the team's most recognizable stars in Saturday night's wild-card playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers contributed to another year in which the Bengals are answering questions about whether someday they'll get out of the first round.
The lacking-discipline aspect of Saturday's loss was most troubling, and it must be addressed post-haste.
Aside from that, though, how exactly do you go about rectifying the problem of consistently losing first-round playoff games? Fire your coach? Blow up the roster?
Maybe. A lot of teams do go that route.
But those teams aren't run by an old-school owner whose circle of trust only extends so wide and whose idea of success is steeped in establishing and maintaining continuity.
Agree with Mike Brown or not, but his is the philosophy that runs the organization. It's a belief system shared by others in the organization's power structure, too.
You can slam Lewis all you want, but some of the mistakes the Bengal made late in the game were just common-sense things that even the most undisciplined teams and players should be able to avoid.
At the end of the day, the Bengals put in a team effort in handing the Steelers a win.