Aside from the NFL sending videos early last week to both the Bengals and Steelers warnings them that no unsportsmanlike behavior would be accepted during the game, the league, in its infinite wisdom, had the same head referee oversee the playoff game that headed up the bloodbath a month earlier.
While it seemed like a great idea in theory because of referee John Parry's familiarity with the potential issues that might surface, it also bred biases and overconfidence in the refs' ability to monitor the game. What ensued was the flagging and sometimes over-flagging of plays, while also missing both blatant and inconspicuous plays that should have been penalized.
One subtle play the crew did catch was on the sideline. Displaying just how deep the hatred of these two teams has branched out, a Steelers coach was involved in the matter. After a tackle made by Reggie Nelson, he ran into the grasp of offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who, in turn, yanked on Nelson's dreadlocks. Munchak was penalized for this move and might also be facing a fine.
The Ryan Shazier hit on Giovani Bernard and Shawn Williams Comparison:
The first egregious mistake by the officials we will look at occurred in the third quarter. Giovani Bernard was the recipient of a big hit by Ryan Shazier, which reportedly knocked the Bengals running back unconscious. Bernard fumbled the ball after the hit and Pittsburgh recovered, taking likely points off the board for Cincinnati. Looking at the replay, Shazier clearly goes helmet-to-helmet with Bernard--which should have been a personal foul, moving the ball up 15-yards for Cincinnati while retaining possession.
If the clip below was a penalty on Shawn Williams for a hit to the head and/or a defenseless receiver, then it should have also been called on Shazier for a similar play to Bernard. Take a look at the number of steps and everything that supposedly made the referees make the call against Williams. At the very least, this group of officials could have remained consistent with the calls they were making. Markus Wheaton is also lowering his head to brace for impact, making the already-small window defenders have to use when hitting a player even smaller.
If they still didn't feel the need to call a penalty on the hit itself by Shazier, perhaps the celebration by he and his teammate Antwon Blake while Bernard was being attended to on the field should have received a flag:
A lot going on here but Antwon Blake and Ryan Shazier dancing while Gio Bernard is still down on the field.... https://t.co/yJ7VF3gFn3— TK (@TK_Sports_) January 10, 2016
Martavis Bryant's Touchdown and the Inability to Explain a Catch:
The officials overseeing the Wild Card game also couldn't tell us what a catch is, once again, much like many of the other groups hired by the NFL. Most believe Martavis Bryant controlled the catch in a ridiculously athletic manner and I applaud his effort, but personally speaking, I saw the ball move between hands far too much to fully determine a controlled catch:
Again, major kudos to Bryant for the effort, but this might have been little more than sticking what was called on the field, and I understand if people see it differently. Had it been ruled incomplete, there is a strong possibility it would have stayed incomplete. Meanwhile, Bengals nation is still asking themselves how Bryant's was a catch, but one from Tyler Eifert earlier this year wasn't:.
David DeCastro's Block on Vontaze Burfict:
There was an instance in the game when Vontaze Burfict took an excessive block well after the play from Steelers guard David DeCastro. After the play was over, DeCastro continued driving an unsuspecting Burfict to the turf yards away from where the play ended. Give all the tough guy antics from both teams on the evening and a supposed clamping down on them by the officials going into the weekend, this should have been a penalty, as it occurred and continued well after the play was completed.
Some may view it as a borderline call, but this kind of play had to be reeled in. Perhaps a predisposed opinion on Burfict made the refs allow it. If a 15-yard penalty was called on DeCastro, as many believe it should have been, it drives the Steelers back and perhaps disallows Bryant the opportunity for his crazy play.
The Joey Porter Situation:
The play that everyone is talking about, however, occurred on the final drive of the game when Burfict and Adam Jones lost their cool and cost the Bengals 30 yards of penalty yardage to set Pittsburgh up with the game-winning field goal. What wasn't flagged was a breaking of the rule by the Steelers with assistant coach Joey Porter on the field, instigating the other penalty called against Jones.
First of all, the question on why Porter was on the field hasn't been answered outside of the assumption he went out there to goad Bengals players into a penalty. Ben Roethlisberger claims he was concerned about Antonio Brown, but many around the league have said they've never seen anything like it.
While it worked, Porter should have easily been penalized for being on the field when he had no business being there. After the flag on Jones (for fighting with Porter) moved the Steelers up another 15 yards, it was all but over. Some believe it should have been offsetting calls on Porter and Burfict, while others believe even with Jones' flag, Porter should have gotten one too, making it only 15 yards the Steelers would receive instead of the 30 they got.
Here's what's unbelievable, look at head referee John Parry stare right at Porter as everything is going on. Given the previous penalty on Munchak's hair-pull on Nelson, the crew should have been on high alert, sending warnings to both staffs to not impede on any other plays. This is at the most critical point of the game and the crew had totally lost control of everything. It's also a shame that a do-or-die playoff game had penalties be the big story at the end of the game.
There has also been some recent accusations by Steelers players stating that Bengals players spat in their faces. If we're being objective here and Cincinnati's players did channel their inner-Bill Romanowski, the refs should have noted this, although that could be a difficult thing to see and make a call on through helmets and in the rain. Still, it's possible Steelers players complained to the referees and there might not have been a strong enough attempt to stop those actions, either.
An ugly game with poor officiating contributed to the loss and made for the heightening of the rivalry going forward. Sure, the Bengals made mistakes on the field that contributed to the loss as well and we're not in the business of making excuses because of officiating, but the NFL and its officials didn't do the Bengals any favors on Saturday night.