Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Sports

Steelers banged up; Bengals' pain is ongoing

PITTSBURGH — There were parts of the Steelers' playoff game late Saturday that seemed surreal.

Their forced fumble that provided one last chance. Their drive in the rain that featured the franchise quarterback shot-putting passes he normally slings. The ugly meltdown by an opponent known for self-destruction.

The bandage on running back Fitzgerald Toussaint's nose, the wrap around linebacker Ryan Shazier's leg and the uncertain status of Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Yes, the Steelers are still around, heading to Denver for next weekend's AFC divisional playoff after a borderline ridiculous 18-16 wild-card win over Cincinnati.

Yet it came at a heavy cost.

Roethlisberger's right shoulder is aching, and Brown had a concussion after a hit from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict that set off a chain of events ending with Chris Boswell's winning field goal with 14 seconds left.

The availability of the cornerstones of the NFL's third-ranked offense for a rematch with the Broncos is unclear.

Still, it beats the alternative.

"I wasn't ready to go home yet," said Shazier, who forced Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill to fumble with 1:23 left to provide the offense just enough time. "I felt like nobody was."

The Bengals are home again, ready or not, with months to think about how they lost a game in which they had the lead and the ball in Pittsburgh territory with less than two minutes left.

Burfict and cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones — players with a history of getting out of control — drew personal fouls that moved the Steelers in range for the winning kick. Coach Marvin Lewis watched his team come unglued under pressure again.

Jones went after Steelers assistant Joey Porter, who had come onto the field to check on Brown.

"This was a disgraceful performance by the Cincinnati Bengals," said CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, the quarterback of Cincinnati's 1988 Super Bowl team.

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-7 in the playoffs, the most losses to start a postseason career in NFL history.

"I've got no words, man," said receiver A.J. Green, whose touchdown catch put Cincinnati up with 1:50 left. "I've got no words."

Jones wrote a post on Instagram right after the game blasting the officials, then deleted it.

The game was ugly all the way around — from fans throwing garbage at an injured Roethlisberger and cheering his injury to the brutal hit by Burfict and Jones' display.

"A vicious, violent game," CBS announcer Jim Nantz said.

Now Pittsburgh has a week to prepare for Peyton Manning and the AFC's top seed.

Roethlisberger will be evaluated this week. Brown's teammates insisted the All-Pro was fine after appearing to be briefly knocked out from the hit by Burfict with 22 seconds to play.

Coaching searches: The Browns interviewed Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott — who has also interviewed for the Bucs' opening — and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. … Jackson also interviewed for the 49ers' opening, as has Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. … Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson interviewed with the Eagles.

Bills: General manager Doug Whaley signed a three-year extension. And Fox Sports reported that coach Rex Ryan will hire his brother Rob, who was fired as Saints defensive coordinator this season. Rob Ryan's role wasn't clear.

Chiefs: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had an MRI exam that showed his right ACL was intact, but he has a sprained ankle, suffered in Saturday's 30-0 playoff victory in Houston. Maclin is considered unlikely to be available for Sunday's division round game at New England.

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