Anatomy of a meltdown: 5 plays that sunk the Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals, who had never completed a come-from-behind playoff victory in team history, somehow came from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to take a late one-point lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a rainy, epic Saturday night in Cincinnati.

Even better, they picked off Ben Roethlisberger's backup Landry Jones to get the ball back with 1:36 to go. At that point, there was no thought Big Ben could return to the game. The Steelers season looked all but over, as did the Bengals' 25-year playoff drought. Here's how the Bengals managed to blow it, in five easy parts:

  1. Jeremy Hill's fumble set up all of the drama to follow. All the Bengals had to do was not fumble. A first down would have won the game. A few runs up the middle, forcing the Steelers to burn their timeouts, would have also set up a field goal attempt to give the Bengals a four-point lead with little time remaining.

Compared to the immaturity to follow, Hill's fumble seems destined to be overshadowed. Yet it was the biggest play of them all. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had a monster night with two forced fumbles and 13 tackles, got the ball out of Hill's hands. Hill was understandably devastated after the game.

  1. Big Benimprobably re-entered the game with 1:23 left and a bum shoulder. (It makes you wonder: why not try putting him in the game the drive before?) Roethlisberger said after the game that he told coach Mike Tomlin that he couldn't throw the ball deep. But the Bengals did not send pressure at Roethlisberger throughout the final drive, allowing him to dink and dunk his way up the field.
  1. The Steelers had fourth-and-3 on their own 41-yard line with just 28 seconds remaining. The Bengals just needed to make one defensive play to win the game. On the snap, the Bengals chose to rush only three defensive lineman. Antonio Brown quickly beat Leon Hall on the play to pick up the first down before taking their third and final timeout.

This continued a streak by the Bengals coaches. Given the chance, they often chose not to be aggressive.

  1. Roethlisberger finally tested his arm with a pass over the middle to Brown on the next play, overshooting him. But Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was called for a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness with 22 seconds left after taking a late shot at Brown that clearly hit him in the helmet. The ball was well past Brown before the hit, and Brown was concussed on the play.

If Burfict hadn't committed the penalty, the Bengals were in great shape to win the game. The Steelers were just past midfield with only 18 seconds left, trailing by one. Burfict played on the edge all night, and he went over it at the worst time imaginable.

  1. Even after Burfict's penalty, they were only in position for a 50-yard field goal try. They probably had time left for one more play. But Adam "Pacman" Jones ruined an otherwise incredible season with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he lost his cool on the field. On the next play, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell connected on the game-winner.

Apparently Steelers coach Joey Porter set Jones off.

"The (expletive) ref did a horrible (expletive) job," Jones said in an Instagram video he later deleted. "You got (Steelers linebacker coach) Joey Porter in the middle of the (expletive) field talking (expletive) to everybody and then when somebody says something to him ... he isn't even supposed to be on the (expletive) field."

And the Steelers weren't supposed to be in the Divisional Round. This should have been the Bengals' night for a magical comeback, but they found the most painful way imaginable to blow it.

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