There we were, less than two minutes left in the game and the Cincinnati Bengals had just come back from being down 15-0. A.J. McCarron had just completed a 25 yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. At the 1:38 point the Bengals Nation was cheering but inside, holding their collective breathe because after all, this is the Bengals and anything can happen.
Ben Roethlisberger was hurt and the Steelers season was in the hands of Landry Jones. He was promptly intercepted by linebacker Vontaze Burfict and all the Bengals had to do was run the ball out. Just run the ball out and the last 25 years do not matter. Absolve the fans and the organization of the streak that began after their last playoff win in January of 1991.
Of course this is the Bengals, so why on earth would it be that simple. Jeremy Hill rumbles to the Pittsburgh 20 yard line where he does not hold the ball with two hands and subsequently fumbles, giving the Steelers life.
Fast forward a little bit and Big Ben, back in the game with a spaghetti shoulder, stands on the Cincinnati Bengals 47 yard line with 22 seconds left. He goes deep to Antonio Brown who is hit by the one and only Vontaze Burfict in what sure felt like a head hunting play. There was no excuse for the hit and no reason, he could have avoided it but instead he costs the team 15 yards. But let’s not stop there.
The arguments ensue, the Bengals lose their temper and somehow Adam Jones pushes a referee. Let me say that again, Adam “Pacman” Jones loses his cool to the degree that he makes contact with a referee. While not much of a defense, it did appear Pacman was going after Joey Porter of the Steelers but still why are you even risking anything at that point and if he got to him it probably would have cost them 15 anyway. Now the Steelers went from the 47 yard line to the 32 yard line and finally all the way to the Bengals 16 yard line without ever completing a pass.
The Steelers go on to make the now very short field goal and knock off the Bengals to advance to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. The Bengals did it again. They found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Take nothing away from the Steelers who did build a 15-0 lead before having to come back late but the reality is this was supposed to be the monkey off the Bengals back. They were going to move on, the season was going to continue, but now it is all over and there could be a chance that Marvin Lewis might lose his job. But why? Let’s take a look.
Marvin Lewis was tied with Jim Mora Sr. as the only coaches to ever lose their first six playoff games. Well now that number has crept to seven. That is a lot of tenure without playoff success.
Marvin Lewis was tied with Steve Owen as the only coaches to lose six straight with one team. Well congrats Mr. Lewis you are not tied anymore with your seventh. Back to the tenure point again, when do you stop getting credit for taking the Bengals back to the playoffs before it is more about playoff ineptness? The Bengals are the only team to ever go one and done in five straight years.
Now there is tonight’s incidents coupled with that stinging loss that could be the preverbal straw that breaks the camel’s back. Marvin Lewis is by all accounts a nice guy and all-around good human but that is just not enough. Remember a few weeks ago when folks were screaming that Tom Coughlin had lost the locker room and his personality was not working. It was time to move on and that was when Odell Beckham lost his mind in Carolina. So now what if it is two players at the end of a playoff game that could break a 25 year old drought of abysmal history?
The game was chippy and everyone knows the Steelers and Bengals are not only division rivals but have a real dislike for each other. Marvin Lewis knows that as much or more than anyone. He knows emotions are high and everyone is one kick, shove, or extra hard hit from boiling over.
The signs were there, the shoving was increasing, and the separating by referees was becoming more common. Heck a sign of emotional state could be when Vontaze Burfict picked off Landry Jones and ran all the way down the field and up the tunnel with a small entourage in tow.
When Jeremy Hill fumbled it was on the coach as the leader on the sideline, to bring in the defense and make sure they all know what is at stake, what needs to happen, and what not to do. It is the job of Marvin Lewis, the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. I know we can argue they are all adults and should know better. That is very true but the onus is on the coach to make sure they all know the stakes, even if they are obvious.
Keep yelling it from the sideline, keep pushing the point, and just keep it under control. Two plays before the moment that will live in the immortal hall of epic mental collapse, the Bengals took their final timeout. We are talking about somewhere between three and five minutes of real-time. Marvin Lewis should have been in every players face. Be smart! Play hard! No penalties! And under no circumstances, lose your cool! But he didn’t, they didn’t, and now it is probably time for Marvin Lewis to go work somewhere else. Hey, I hear there are a couple of openings.
At the end of the day, it is more than just tonight and it is more than just that fateful moment when the Bengals put on their Bungles hats one more time. Marvin Lewis extended his streak of playoff failures. Making the playoffs meant something a few years ago but now that they are their every year, they fail to win. Failures compound and coaches lose their jobs. Even the nice ones.