The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading to Denver. The Cincinnati Bengals are heading to another long offseason after a meltdown as ugly and ill-timed as it was complete.
Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining as the Steelers somehow pulled out an 18-16 victory in the AFC wildcard game on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh moved into field goal position after a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Bengals, one on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and another on Adam Jones after Burfict hit defenseless Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Boswell drilled his fourth field goal of the game to give the Steelers their first playoff win since the 2010 AFC championship game. The Bengals appeared to be in position for their first postseason win in 25 years before Jeremy Hill’s fumble gave Pittsburgh one last shot.
Roethlisberger left with a right shoulder injury on the final play of the third quarter but returned for Pittsburgh’s last-gasp drive. Unable to throw with any real authority, he still managed to get the Steelers near midfield with 22 seconds to go when he threw high to Brown in Cincinnati territory. Burfict, whose sack of Roethlisberger sent the quarterback to the locker room, lowered his shoulder as Brown landed. The volatile linebacker earned a personal foul. Jones compounded the problem when he lost his cool, easily putting Boswell within field goal range after Cincinnati’s eighth — and final — flag of an unsightly night.
Roethlisberger finished 18 of 31 for 229 yards and a touchdown in rainy conditions. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 123 yards rushing filling in for DeAngelo Williams.
Still, it hardly seemed like it would be enough. AJ McCarron put together a late rally after Martavis Bryant’s somersaulting touchdown grab gave the Steelers a 15-0 lead heading into the final quarter.
Cincinnati ripped off 16 straight points, the last six on a 25-yard strike from McCarron to AJ Green that put the Bengals in front. They missed the two-point conversion.
When Burfict intercepted Landry Jones on Pittsburgh’s ensuing possession, Cincinnati and coach Marvin Lewis appeared ready to end the sixth-longest postseason drought in NFL history.
Then, the team that said it would keep it together fell completely apart. Hill saw the ball pop out as Cincinnati tried to run out the clock and the Steelers recovered at the Pittsburgh 9 with 1:23 left. Just enough time for Roethlisberger — with plenty of help from Cincinnati — to send the Steelers to Denver and a rematch with the Broncos, whom Pittsburgh beat 34-27 last month.