I should have learned my lesson long ago. Nothing but heartaches, no Willy Wonka golden tickets for being a Bengals fan, just a candy bar with an empty wrapper. Again, the prize was dangled in front of our noses only to be pulled away at the last moment by the class bully. Suffer, rinse, repeat-the life of a Bengals fan.
Since this is Tuesday and the now infamous playoff game was played last Saturday, there’s nothing new that I can write that you haven’t already read online or elsewhere. If I had written this column on Sunday morning when my emotions were still high, it could have been really ugly and likely would have been seriously censored. I would love to be a beat writer who had to sit down in the minutes after the game and type out a story, emotions on full, but three days later. I have calmed a bit. But not much.
First off, let me sound off on the Steelers and get that out of the way. I already wrote last week about how I despise their whole organization and Saturday night sure didn’t make it any better. Of course, their coaches and players act as if they are just the innocent child accused of stealing the extra cookie. A coach who condones the thug behavior and gives game balls to coaches who go on the field illegally to bait the other team? I always respected the work of Bill Cowher but I have no respect for Mike Tomlin, the coach who leaves the sidelines to trip runners from the other team. Remember that one?
On Saturday night, the Steelers’ game plan was simple-get under the skin of the Bengals and they executed it to perfection. Throw in their usual array of cheap shots and you have the donnybrook that was supposed to be an NFL playoff game.
That being said, the Steelers didn’t beat the Bengals. The Bengals beat the Bengals and it was downright embarrassing how it all went down. I thought I had seen it all as a long-time fan but Saturday night was a new one for me. Though the Steelers relish in their image, the Bengals sank to that level on Saturday and it cost them at the most inopportune moment.
There’s not much need to rehash all the events of the final two minutes again, other than to give you my thoughts on the situation. First off, I agree the Vontaze Burfict has issues, but I am still not convinced that his hit on Antonio Brown was that malicious. He didn’t hit him helmet to helmet, like Ryan Shazier did Giovani Bernard, and in slow motion, it is really hard to tell if he hit his helmet at all. It looked to me like Brown flopped as good as some NBA player taking a charge, but I’ve never been hit by the runaway Burfict train. If Brown has a miracle recovery and plays this week in Denver, then it looks a little suspicious to me.
Then it was time for Adam Jones to lose his emotions at a bad time, though obviously provoked by an unprofessional Steelers coach who seized the moment and made the most of it. (Joey Porter was a jerk when he played and hasn’t changed. You Tube Levi Jones-Joey Porter if you don’t believe me.) It should have either been no penalties at all or offsetting penalties, but that is certainly a moot argument at this point. An official who sensed that he and his buddies had lost control of the game (which they had) threw a flag that probably should have stayed in his pocket if he had even thought about how much he was influencing the outcome of a game that the players should decide, not the officials. Jones lost his temper and is no doubt at fault, which was a shame since he had played magnificently up to that point. Even Steelers fans would agree that Saturday night was a very poorly officiated football game. Throw some blame at the NFL too.
Throw some blame at Jeremy Hill also, who fumbled away the chance to run out the clock and secure the elusive playoff win, but to his credit, stood up to his mistake. At the time, I wondered why the Bengals didn’t just take a knee three times, burn the Steelers’ timeouts, and kick a field goal, but after reflection I’m willing to give Coach Lewis the benefit of the doubt on that one.
Speaking of Coach Lewis, there have been a lot of calls for his head since Saturday’s defeat, but he’s not going anywhere, at least until his contract is up after next season. His first duty this off-season may be to restock most of his coaching staff as Bengals’ assistants seem to be popular hires around the league. That just tells you that the Bengals had gone from being one of the laughingstock organizations in football to being one of the most respected, but for the moment, two minutes on Saturday night have temporarily put them back in the laughingstock category.
For Bengals fans, the feeling is not unusual. It’s the second weekend of the playoffs and our team is nowhere to be found, though I truly believe that they could have given New England a run for their money. We will never know that now.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of Saturday’s craziness is that my family is now just as “Bengalized” as much as I have been for the last 30 years. When A.J. Green crossed the goal line to give the Bengals the lead, my wife and son both came out of their seats, thinking this one was in the bag. I just calmly sat on the couch and said,”It’s the Bengals folks. You might not want to get too excited yet.” Just moments later, I was correct.
I do have a possible solution for next season. We know the Bengals have as much talent as any team in the NFL so just have them sit out the regular season and place them in the first round of the playoffs. Then, let the rest of the AFC battle for 17 weeks to see who gets to play Cincinnati. Given recent history, any team that might earn that honor would have to be feeling good about it. But again, Bengal fans can take solace, we’re not in Cleveland, though Saturday night’s debacle looked like something straight out of the Dawg Pound.
I’m thinking I could write another five pages on Saturday night’s game but it’s just time to let it go and move on. Besides, it’s 10 degrees outside and I need to head home to find my warm spot on the couch and focus on what is now important. Go Big Blue!