After a devastating loss, it may make you feel better (or, it may not) to place the blame on someone - anyone - who played a role in what went on during Saturday's Wild Card matchup between the Bengals and Steelers. Here are some of the candidates (let's leave out the Steelers) for whom the blame can be placed.
It doesn’t take too much description to offer Burfict as a good candidate for the blame. His unnecessary hit on Antonio Brown in the final seconds of the game not only gave the Steelers 15 free yards, but led to the mess on the field which ensued, which gave an additional 15 penalty yards to the Steelers. There is much angst rightly directed at Burfict, but without his sack on Roethlisberger, and interception later in the game, the Bengals likely would not have been in a situation to even win Saturday's game.
The fumble with less than two minutes to play turned many euphoric Bengals fans into nervous wrecks. One can argue that he should have never been put in that situation to begin with, but still, as a fumble-prone running back, he needs to be more aware of the situation, and try his best to keep the ball as secure as possible.
Not only did he run perhaps one of the worst conceived 2-point conversions ever, which kept the Bengals’ lead at 1 point instead of three, but he decided to run the ball with a fumble-prone Hill, in the final minutes of the game. Three kneel downs would have resulted in a Mike Nugent chip shot field goal, burned all of the Steelers’ time outs, and given the Bengals a 4 point lead with a minute to play. Instead, Hill was given the ball, and we know how that turned out.
Ok, so there are many, many points that could be shared to this end. I’ll offer one – the non-penalty on the hit to Giovani Bernard which caused a fumble. Despite Ryan Shazier targeting Bernard with his helmet, and causing helmet-to-helmet contact, no flag was thrown. Had the flag been thrown, the fumble would have been negated.
Rey's inability to catch and intercept a ball thrown directly his way is troubling. If Rey were to have caught the ball, it would have prevented the field goal attempt which followed on the next play and which gave the Steelers three more points. Those three points turned out to be crucial to the game’s outcome.
AJ McCarron struggled throwing the ball for much of the game in the rain. It was evident in his horribly thrown interception. The rain obviously affected both teams, but seemed to affect the inexperienced Bengals’ quarterback more.
NFL Tiebreaker Rules
Despite three teams from the AFC finishing 12-4, the Bengals were the one forced to play in the opening weekend. Are the tiebreaker rules fair for playoff seeding in the NFL?
Lewis is the one constant in all seven playoff losses for the Bengals over the last 11 years. There has been much grumbling about him in the past. Is he to blame for this one, too?
As many Bengals fans are feeling, Saturday's game is one I’d like to forget – especially the ending. So perhaps I have missed a key attribute which led to the Bengals’ loss. Feel free to share your thoughts.
Ultimately it seems like it was a team effort in losing the game, without one player or factor being solely responsible for the devastating ending. But, to fix the Bengals' playoff losses going forward, the cause must first be determined. Who would you consider the primary culprit of Saturday's Bengals loss?