The Cincinnati Bengals made their fifth straight NFL playoff, and promptly lost… Their fifth straight NFL playoff game.
Plenty of false narratives will be set forth from this game, and those narratives began before the game even ended. Boomer Esiason stated after the game (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m ashamed to be a former Cincinnati Bengal.” Really Boomer?
Everyone lambasted, and it continued into the morning, Vontaze Burfict for attacking Antonio Brown… Where’s the outcry about Ryan Shazier lowering his head and hitting Giovani Bernard in the face? There was a blatant helmet to helmet hit, and Bernard didn’t drop his head while taking the hit, he was standing straight up which means Shazier had ample space to hit Bernard in the chest, but low and behold Bernard was unconscious before he even hit the ground and it led to a fumble which cost Cincinnati 3 points. After this Shazier and other Steelers’ players were seen celebrating at midfield, while Bernard is on the ground barely moving.
I’m no doctor (cue the doctor jokes here), but I don’t think it’s very likely that a person goes immediately unconscious when he gets hit in the chest.
But Cincinnati has the control issues, right? When Burfict hit Brown, he was running by him with his shoulder down (keywords: running BY him) and Brown twisted at the last second with his head ending up in front of Burfict, but clearly that should be put on Burfict.
Before getting into the asinine penalty called on Adam Jones, let’s flashback to Pittsburgh’s second scoring drive. Roethlisberger threw a great pass to Markus Wheaton who was slammed to the turf by Shawn Williams almost immediately, I give plenty of credit to Wheaton for hanging onto the ball because Williams’ shoulder hit him squarely in the chest (remember that statement when you read the next sentence). The referees throw a flag, and Williams is penalized for unnecessary roughness. It’s unnecessary to tackle within the legal strike zone? It’s against the rules for a safety to make a play he’s paid to make, and to make it without hitting the receiver in the head? Again, I will refer to Shazier lowering his head and driving the crown of his helmet into Bernard’s helmet, knocking Bernard unconscious, but Pittsburgh received the ball on a fumble.
As a quick recap, one Cincinnati Bengals’ player was penalized for a perfectly legal hit across the middle, another one was penalized for lowering his shoulder as he ran past a twisting receiver, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ player was granted a fumble recovery after driving the crown of his helmet into the head of a Bengals’ player, knocking him unconscious. But we’re all totally sure that the Bengals players are just out of control idiots.
After Burfict’s hit on Brown, it seemed like he was trying to offer some condolence to Brown heading off the field, and a Pittsburgh coach/trainer shoved Burfict away. That was okay, though, as evidenced by it also being okay for Joey Porter (former Pitt linebacker, and current coach) to be standing in the middle of a group of Cincinnati players during a tense moment that may have just decided the outcome of the game (picture can be seen above).
Then Adam Jones gets angry about Porter who, based on the smug look on his face, was presumably talking shit to the group. Jones runs over, and is immediately penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, or something of the sort. Pittsburgh gets another 15 yards, and an easy field goal. Hmm… Something isn’t adding up here. A coach shoving Burfict (the second time in the game a Pittsburgh coach put hands upon a Cincinnati player, although the first one was penalized), and another coach instigating a group of Cincinnati defenders, are pardoned. A Cincinnati player gets angry about the instigation, doesn’t touch anyone, just runs over and yells, and he is immediately flagged. And I’m supposed to believe the idiotic narrative about a lack of control, or how the Bengals gave the game away? Please. I expect nothing less from a society of sheeple, which includes the talking heads on the idiot box who seem to revel in the control they have over the minds of others.
To be sure, the Bengals gave this game away, they lost it all on their own. These penalties are a microcosm of the ridiculous rules by which the NFL is currently officiated. Ambiguous rules, with similarly ambiguous “articles/sections”, which often rely on judgment calls and an insincere attempt to “protect” players have led to terrible officiating. Let’s be clear on this, the officials are not bad, they do the best they can with the responsibilities they are given. They have to make split second calls, while ensuring that the calls align with a whole bunch of haphazard rules that they need to have memorized, and with people clamoring for their heads every time their team loses. Sometimes, however, they make bad calls because they are human and every person on the field makes mistakes, it’s part of what makes the game so exciting. The reality is that the rules will, whether on purpose or by accident is irrelevant, set up officials and players for failure. Round 1 of the AFC playoffs is a prime example of this failure.
SECTION 2 - PERSONAL FOULS
“ARTICLE 8. INITIATING CONTACT WITH THE CROWN OF THE HELMET
It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.”
Non-player personnel of a club (e.g., management personnel, coaches, trainers, equipment men) are prohibited from making unnecessary physical contact with or directing abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures at opponents, game officials, or representatives of the League.
Cincinnati didn’t lose because they lack control, or because Marvin Lewis can’t discipline his team. This narrative has been false since the Bengals were considered a team of criminals. They lost because Hue Jackson has been an atrocious play caller all season, and against Pittsburgh he took that to new heights. They lost because the execution on the plays he did call, particularly by the offensive line, was putrid. A team with one of the best 1-2 running back combinations in the league, couldn’t run the ball against a team with an above average defense in the rain. A team with the league leader in receiving touchdowns, and a receiver who is considered by many to be top 3 in the NFL, couldn’t score more than 16 points. They allowed 3 sacks, 2 of which effectively ended the drive. They ran a silly swing pass on a crucial two-point conversion. And Jeremy Hill continued his inability to hold onto the football.
Cincinnati has probably needed to move on from Lewis, despite all he has done for the franchise, for a few years now. As a fan, and a football person, I think it would be a great move to make him general manager, but as a head coach he has made it clear he isn’t the guy. Lewis is now 0-7 in the playoffs, and he has amassed that record with multiple coaching regimes, 2 different quarterbacks, and multiple personnel changes. The Bengals are inconsistent with Lewis at the helm, and it shows in the biggest of games every year. Hue Jackson is slightly better than Jay Gruden had been, but he has made it clear for 2 years that he is not capable of calling our offense effectively. Paul Guenther is my favorite “important” coach on the team, but his decisions to back the corners off their receivers in short yardage situations has made me want to tear my hair out every week. The Bengals have, in my opinion, the best team in the AFC, but they consistently underperform when the games matter, and that rests on the coaches. The common denominator is Marvin Lewis, and something needs to change.