Clutch Encounters: Wild Card

Clutch Encounters: Wild Card
Clutch Encounters: Wild Card
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

For the first time in NFL history, all four road teams won on wild-card weekend. If there was ever a slate for it to happen, this was the one. We ridiculed the quality of the NFC East and AFC South all year, so it's no surprise that Houston and Washington lost. The Bengals have the longest playoff win drought in the league (25 seasons and counting). And Minnesota has its own checkered playoff history -- though for many FO readers, this contest was about Seattle's DVOA dynasty, which was expected to roll through another big game.

Kansas City finally ended its own playoff drought with a 30-0 shutout in Houston. Brian Hoyer's only multi-turnover games this season came in his two matchups with Kansas City. Travis Kelce's only two 100-yard receiving games came against the Texans. Go figure. Meanwhile, Washington finished 0-4 against teams with a winning record, losing each game by at least 14 points after Green Bay's unexpected rushing attack powered the Packers to a 35-18 win.

The sixth seeds provided the weekend's exciting finishes, though both games were defined better by their mind-melting mistakes rather than crunch-time triumphs. As Denny Green would say, this was the weekend where they let them off the hook.

Game of the Week

Pittsburgh Steelers 18 at Cincinnati Bengals 16

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 1 (16-15)

Win Probability (4QC/GWD with 1:23 left): 0.14

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (20-39 at 4QC and 31-44 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (27-39 at 4QC and 38-44 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Bengals cannot blame Andy Dalton for this one -- the Steelers accidentally ended his season in Week 14, a full four weeks before eliminating the best Cincinnati team since 1988's Super Bowl squad. Comparisons will understandably be drawn to 2005 when a sixth-seeded Pittsburgh team went into Cincinnati, took down Carson Palmer with a legal (at the time) hit, and handed Marvin Lewis his first playoff loss. A decade later, Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs (0-4 at home), never getting past the wild-card round and never coaching the Bengals to score more than 17 points in any game. Simply put, it's the worst postseason resume of any head coach in NFL history.

This has to be the worst loss for the Bengals since Super Bowl XXIII, because for a change, they were actually in position to win. This was the first time Lewis had a lead in the final 20 minutes of a playoff game. Cincinnati toughed it out in the rain behind backup AJ McCarron and erased a 15-0 deficit in the fourth quarter. Since 1992, Pittsburgh is 174-3-1 when leading by at least 11 points at any time in the game. Cincinnati has two of those comeback wins (in 2001 and 2009) and threatened another here. Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger on a big hit to end the third quarter, and backup Landry Jones appeared to throw the game away via an interception with 1:36 left. According to ESPN, Pittsburgh's win probability was 9.4 percent at that moment. It was only 22.0 percent with 22 seconds remaining, but somehow, the Steelers pulled this out after the Bengals lost their composure in one of the worst ways you will ever see a team lose a game. You would have been stunned if this had been a regular-season outcome, but the magnitude of the playoffs will keep this one in the memory banks for decades to come.

The turning point to set the teams on the path to this wild finish was clearly at the 1:43 mark of the third quarter. McCarron's short pass for Giovani Bernard was diagnosed well by Ryan Shazier, who flew in for the tackle. Bernard took a crushing hit to the head and fumbled, but the play was blown dead. There was a big scrum after this play, with Jim Nantz doing his best Jim Ross impersonation with a classic call of "Look at midfield here, Jeremy Hill's about to take on four Steelers!" (It is hard to believe John Parry was given the referee assignment on this game after he failed to sustain control when these teams met in Week 14.) The reality is that this play should probably have been a fumble return for a touchdown by Shazier, because referees have been told to let these plays go more often without blowing a whistle. After Shazier gained possession of the ball, he was not touched, and there was no one ahead of him to the end zone. Pittsburgh could have opened up a 22-0 lead at that point. Instead, the play was immediately whistled dead, and it was ruled Pittsburgh's ball at the point of the fumble recovery.

The NFL also reminded us that its rulebook makes little sense and lacks a lot of logical consistency. Shazier popped Bernard in the helmet with the crown of his helmet, but that contact is legal since Bernard was a runner at that point instead of a defenseless player. As for the almost-never-called crowning rule itself, implemented in 2013, that does not apply since part of the rule has always been lining up the opponent. Going back to the Trent Richardson hit that really started this, the NFL added this rule to try to avoid that straight-on impact when a player uses his helmet as a weapon. Bernard had just turned as Shazier was coming, so by the letter of the law, he made a legal hit, but it sure set this game off.

Following the fumble recovery, Roethlisberger was sacked on third-and-18 by Vontaze Burfict, injuring his shoulder on the play. (It probably didn't help that Burfict got an extra lick in on that shoulder.) McCarron finally threw some deep passes to A.J. Green in the fourth quarter, with enough success to question why the Bengals had not been more aggressive earlier. Lewis also decided to kick a field goal in between touchdowns, but that was excusable with Jones in the game for Pittsburgh, making it more likely Cincinnati would get the ball back for one more drive. McCarron's 25-yard touchdown pass to Green with 1:50 left came against a terrible call for zone defense by the Steelers. Green got right between cornerback William Gay and safety Mike Mitchell, breaking Mitchell's tackle to score. It was third-and-7, and Green was the best player on the field, so why not cover him with Gay and Mitchell together to force the ball elsewhere? But no, every week someone scores a touchdown because a corner thought he had "safety help." It is one thing if you do that against Rex Burkhead, but not Green.

Truly lost in the madness to come, the Bengals ran one of the worst two-point conversion plays in one of the most crucial situations. With a one-point lead, it is paramount to convert and protect yourself from being beaten by a field goal at the end. This is what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made the most recent item on his resume, and it never had a chance. Green was not even on the field for this play, and the few blockers were overwhelmed.

Things had to be bad for Roethlisberger not to check back in with the Steelers trailing for the first time all night. Jones' success rate was 1-of-6 in the quarter, and his late throw over the middle was instantly picked off by Burfict. Almost like a sign of things to come, Burfict decided to run all the way off the field with Adam Jones, the second-in-command of this idiot brigade, right by his side. How was that not a delay of game or excessive celebration penalty? It would have been an all-time gaffe if Burfict had not been down and this counted as a go-ahead safety for Pittsburgh.

The good thing about Pittsburgh throwing a pick on the first play of their drive is that it saved them the most time. Had Jones led the Steelers to midfield before ultimately failing with about 40 seconds left, the game would have been lost. Pittsburgh, not known for good clock management, was fortunate to have all three timeouts remaining. At the Pittsburgh 26, Cincinnati was compelled to do something with the ball, though I am increasingly pushing the strategy of just taking three knees in that situation. Handoff abstinence means no fumbling concern. Sure, you'll have to kick a field goal and give the ball back with about 80 seconds left, but the Steelers would have (apparently) been counting on Jones to lead a touchdown drive. Good luck with that.

On first down, Jeremy Hill got the carry and fought for extra yards when all that mattered at that point was ball security. This is why I cannot stomach watching players touch the ball in these situations anymore. We see too many skill players going out of bounds or fumbling the ball, misunderstanding the situation. Shazier stripped Hill, who basically pulled a Jerome Bettis, and the Steelers were recreating another of their 2005 playoff endings. But this Madden Moment was asking them to win it in Indianapolis' shoes this time.

[ad placeholder 3]

Roethlisberger had to suck it up and come back in. He could not have been any worse than Jones. The Steelers were stuck at their own 9-yard line, but still had those three timeouts to use, only needing a field goal. Roethlisberger threw eight passes on the drive: two bubble screens, one throwaway, and only one pass beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh was 2-of-13 on third downs, but a conversion here to Fitzgerald Toussaint was huge as he adjusted to the ball really well. Toussaint and Jordan Todman both played much better than anticipated with DeAngelo Williams out. Still, the drive came down to a fourth-and-3, and that was when Roethlisberger made more of a bullet pass to Antonio Brown for the first down.

Even with that completion, Pittsburgh only had 22 seconds left with no timeouts at the Cincinnati 47. They still needed a good 15 yards just to get a 50-yard field goal attempt. Roethlisberger had to try a deeper pass, and his overthrown attempt led Brown into the path of Burfict for a cheap shot to the head, leading to a concussion. Do I think it was the dirtiest hit ever? Not even close, but in this era, they are going to penalize that every time with a defenseless receiver involved. Burfict can expect a fine and possibly a suspension given his history.

After that 15-yard penalty, the win probability was still 55 percent according to ESPN Stats & Info. It went up to 73 percent after Jones' 15-yard penalty, which never should have happened. Originally I felt bad for Lewis after two of his knuckleheads lost it at the worst time, but after letting this one cool off for 24 hours and watching it over, I find the coach to be accountable.

Lewis should have had those guys with him on the sideline while Brown was being attended to. Instead, Burfict went over to talk to Joey Porter, an assistant coach with the Steelers. Technically, Porter should not have been on the field, but officials clearly make exceptions such as in the event of a serious injury. I have no idea if Porter called out Burfict or if the two were even being aggressive, but I am stunned at the lack of attention put on Wallace Gilberry bumping into Porter from behind. If that had not happened, I doubt things would have escalated so quickly, which led to Jones coming in and contacting a referee on his way to Porter, an obvious foul. Do not put this all on Burfict and Jones, as Gilberry deserves a fine too, as does Porter. Maybe the NFL can put in a hard-line rule on assistant coaches not being allowed on the field next year.

Mike Tomlin still kind of botched the ending as he should have had Roethlisberger take a knee and spike the ball with three seconds left; instead, the field goal unit came out with 18 seconds left. Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh's fourth kicker of 2015, was an excellent find and he drilled the 35-yard field goal to regain the lead. McCarron's ensuing Hail Mary never had a shot and the game was over. Lewis falls to 2-13 at home against Pittsburgh in his career.

With a healthy Dalton returning, the Bengals will be one of the favorites to return to the playoffs next year. However, the growing disappointments over 13 seasons have to start adding up against Lewis. Without a breakthrough in 2016, it has to be time to move in a different direction.

Clutch Encounters of the Winning Kind

Seattle Seahawks 10 at Minnesota Vikings 9

Type: 4QC/GWD

Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 9 (9-0)

Win Probability (4QC with 15:00 left): 0.18

Head Coach: Pete Carroll (21-42 at 4QC and 29-47 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Quarterback: Russell Wilson (13-17 at 4QC and 18-19 overall 4QC/GWD record)

Minnesota just had to have a breakout season one year before the new roofed stadium opened. Then again, the brutal cold probably helped even the playing field given Week 13's 38-7 trampling by Seattle in this building. While the third-coldest game in NFL history (minus-6 degrees at kickoff) lacks a nickname such as "Ice Bowl" or "Freezer Bowl," the signature play is not in question. Unfortunately, it will always be a missed 27-yard field goal by Blair Walsh with 22 seconds left in this 10-9 loss. Good grief, wasn't Gary Anderson in the 1998 NFC championship game enough? A fan base can only take so many all-time epic kicking fails.

Walsh is the 10th kicker in the Super Bowl era to miss a do-or-die field goal in the playoffs, which all happened in the final minute of the fourth quarter with a team trailing by 1 to 3 points. Walsh has the distinction of the shortest miss at 27 yards, beating out Billy Cundiff as the most recent example.

NFL Playoffs: Do-or-Die Field Goals Missed in Super Bowl Era
Kicker Date Team Opp Round Score Time Length Result
Mike Michel 12/24/1978 PHI at ATL NFC-WC Down 14-13 0:13 34 Wide right
Eddie Murray 12/31/1983 DET at SF NFC-DIV Down 24-23 0:11 43 Wide right
Nick Lowery 1/5/1991 KC at MIA AFC-WC Down 17-16 0:56 52 Short
Scott Norwood 1/27/1991 BUF NYG SB Down 20-19 0:08 47 Wide right
Pete Stoyanovich 1/8/1995 MIA at SD AFC-DIV Down 22-21 0:06 48 Wide right
Lin Elliott 1/7/1996 KC IND AFC-DIV Down 10-7 0:42 42 Wide left
Mike Vanderjagt 1/15/2006 IND PIT AFC-DIV Down 21-18 0:21 46 Wide right
Nate Kaeding 1/14/2007 SD NE AFC-DIV Down 24-21 0:08 54 Short
Billy Cundiff 1/22/2012 BAL at NE AFC-C Down 23-20 0:15 32 Wide left
Blair Walsh 1/10/2016 MIN SEA NFC-WC Down 10-9 0:26 27 Wide left

The Seahawks are a hard team to kill, though for three quarters this looked nothing like a team vying for a third-straight Super Bowl run. A botched Seattle punt led to the only points of a first half in which Russell Wilson threw a really short pass on fourth-and-13 and hung a deep ball that should have been a touchdown to Doug Baldwin but was incomplete instead. Seattle carelessly burned through timeouts and then called another silly fourth-down play that resulted in a Wilson interception in the third quarter.

When the Vikings took a 9-0 lead into the fourth quarter, you wondered if Seattle was ever going to score. A shutout would have ended the Seahawks' incredible 86-game streak of being at least within one score in the fourth quarter. Naturally, it took a fumbled snap followed by some Wilson magic to turn the game around. Many quarterbacks would have been fortunate just to recover the ball for a 16-yard loss, blowing up the drive in the process. Wilson, though, had the athleticism to corral the ball and scramble to find a wide-open Tyler Lockett for a 35-yard gain. That was a total ad-lib, and it changed everything that followed in the final 13 minutes.

Seattle finally cashed in with a touchdown, and then the dreaded Adrian Peterson fumbling problem returned two plays into the next drive. Kam Chancellor did a great job to pop the ball out for the recovery at the Minnesota 40. Wilson only completed one pass on the ensuing drive, but it was a key third-down conversion to Jermaine Kearse, the David Givens of this decade in the postseason. Seattle had bypassed a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter, but time was running out here. Steven Hauschka delivered with an excellent 46-yard field goal in tough conditions with 8:04 left.

The good news was that Seattle had its first lead, but the bad news was it being of the 1-point variety. Those are so hard to protect in the NFL, especially if you go conservative on offense should you get the ball back. A good rush from Bobby Wagner sacked Teddy Bridgewater to thwart one drive with a three-and-out. According to ESPN, the Seahawks pressure the quarterback on 32.7 percent of dropbacks this season, ranking second in the league.

On a big third-and-1 for Seattle, I thought Cris Collinsworth's "Uh-oh" remark was in regards to what may have been Minnesota jumping offsides. Wilson's pass was shockingly bad and should have been intercepted, but I thought he may have thrown it since he knew he had a free play. As it turns out, there was no penalty, because it was just great timing by Sharrif Floyd.

Seattle's great pressure rate over the years is impressive when you consider how infrequently this defense has to blitz. This season only six teams blitzed less frequently than Seattle (21.9 percent), but a six-man pressure was then dialed up here to bring Bridgewater down for another huge drive-killing sack.

[ad placeholder 4]

Seattle got the ball back with 2:13 left. You would have liked to see the ball in Wilson's hands to end the game on offense, even if it meant a designed run for him. With a 10-9 lead, it was very risky to give the ball back to Minnesota. The Seahawks were disappointingly conservative with two runs to set up a third-and-5 for Wilson. He then threw incomplete on third down, but evan a good throw would have been wiped out and the clock would have stopped for a holding penalty. Seattle's back-to-back three-and-out drives put a ton of pressure on the defense to close this one out.

It was funny to hear Collinsworth talk about Seattle's defense uncharacteristically blowing fourth-quarter leads. Well, the Seahawks only tied for the league lead with the Giants and Chargers in that department this year with five. They blew a 10-point lead in the Super Bowl that Collinsworth called in February, and since 2012 they have blown 15 fourth-quarter leads, trailing only Tampa Bay's 16. The early start time, the cold weather, and Marshawn Lynch getting downgraded late in the week all were contributing factors, but the offense certainly disappointed in this game. Now the defense was about to disappoint with a familiar bugaboo: Chancellor getting beat by a tight end (Kyle Rudolph this time) for a 19-yard pass interference flag and then a 24-yard reception.

Just like that the Vikings were in field-goal range with seemingly all of Seattle's flaws coming back to end its season in the first round. I had no problem with Mike Zimmer playing for the short field goal here. If anything, you were worried about Peterson fumbling again.

So with 26 seconds left, all Walsh had to do was kick a 27-yard field goal for a likely 12-10 victory. That should have been easy enough. He was 32-of-33 from under 30 yards in his career coming into the game. He had already connected from 22, 43, and 47 in this game. From this short distance, temperature was not a factor if you consider this Brian Burke study from 2014.

Of course, this happened and the game was over.

You can say "laces out, Dan" and all that jazz, but it was a chip-shot kick. It just so happened to be the most-pressured kick of Walsh's career, and kicker is a position where we have seen some obvious examples of choking. Some of the most accurate kickers in NFL history (Mike Vanderjagt and Nate Kaeding) completely gagged on the biggest kicks of their careers in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where extreme reactions are the norm. The morons who are sending Walsh and his family death threats do not even deserve to watch or talk about sports. The fans pinning this loss all on Walsh are ignoring that he would have been one of the main reasons they won the game if he had made the kick. They are ignoring the lack of scoring from the offense and the Peterson fumble that set up Seattle's winning score. Hell, Peterson might have been Minnesota's worst player on Sunday.

That said, the people who want to hand Walsh a key to the city are out of line as well. Kickers have an easily defined job. Over the course of a season they will kick about 35 field goals, 40 extra points and 80 kickoffs. In today's era, most of those kicks will be successful. When it comes to a 27-yard field goal, that is one of the easiest plays the kicker will see all year. Even if we factored in the laces, the temperature, the angle, and the magnitude of knowing this is to win a playoff game, I still expect any decent NFL kicker to make that kick at least 90 percent of the time. Walsh failed at his job, and while he may not have cost his team a championship like Billy Cundiff or Scott Norwood, this will go down as one of the worst missed kicks in NFL history. Now we have to see how he rebounds from this since kicking is such a mental position. Things have been trending downwards since his rookie year in 2012, when Walsh was an All-Pro and 10-of-10 on kicks from 50-plus yards, including a 55-yard field goal to force overtime in his pro debut.

After heart-breaking losses in Denver and Arizona, this was probably a fitting end for the 2015 Vikings. They were good enough to hang with the best in the league, but just didn't have enough firepower to beat them in the end. It was a very good year for Minnesota, and what this team does in the offseason will be worth monitoring.

Pittsburgh and Seattle pulled out some major escapes this weekend, but before you go penciling in a Super Bowl XL rematch in Super Bowl 50, just think of how dire the odds got for both teams in the first round. Things are only going to get tougher from here.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 70

Game-winning drives: 89 (plus six non-offensive game-winning scores)

Games with 4QC/GWD opportunity: 158/260 (60.8 percent)

10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 34

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.


40 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2016, 6:55pm

#1 by Travis // Jan 11, 2016 - 2:49pm

Truly lost in the madness to come, the Bengals ran one of the worst two-point conversion plays in one of the most crucial situations. With a one-point lead, it is paramount to convert and protect yourself from being beaten by a field goal at the end

The worst part of the Bengals' two-point conversion is that there was a very real chance of the backwards pass being muffed and then returned by the Steelers for the go-ahead defensive two-point conversion.

Points: 0

#2 by Will Allen // Jan 11, 2016 - 2:55pm

Yes, Peterson has a history of fumbling, which strengthened back to his early career tendency this year. That doesn't mean every fumble was due to lack of attention to ball security. Sometimes the defense just makes an excellent play. In this case, the fumble was a two man effort, one defender grabbing Peterson's free arm, preventing Peterson from getting two hands on the ball, and the other guy ripping the ball. No, Peterson wasn't the worst player on the Vikings offense, not even close. That would be Kalil, and the next worse was an offensive lineman as well.

Points: 0

#3 by LyleNM // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:20pm

The Vikings look to have a very real chance to be the NFC's Super Bowl representative next year if they can make the necessary improvements on the OL and at WR. (Although if Diggs can play a full season at the level he did at the start of this year, then WR is a bit less of a priority.)

Points: 0

#7 by Will Allen // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:39pm

They'll have an interesting choice to make on the Peterson contract. His cap number drops to 11 million in 2016, before jumping back up to 18 million in '17, so this is definitely the last year the contract will be left alone, but it sure isn't a given, nor should it be. On the other hand, absent a clear path to substantial o-line improvement, the prospect of keeping him can't be ruled out. IIf somebody (c'mon Jerrel!) makes a silly trade offer, that'd really help.

Points: 0

#10 by LyleNM // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:56pm

While that would help, I can't really imagine anyone offering more than a 4th rounder (at best). Even Jerrel or Chip Kelly's new team.

(edit) And it's probably going to be even lower if, as suspected, Marshawn Lynch is also available (more or less) freely.

Points: 0

#36 by mehllageman56 // Jan 13, 2016 - 1:31pm

The Vikings already have 22 million of room under next year's cap, and they can cut Mike Wallace, Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil and gain 11 million in room for each of them. They can make a run at Andre Smith and Lamar Miller in free agency if they want to.

Points: 0

#37 by Will Allen // Jan 13, 2016 - 1:57pm

It took Zimmer less than 24 hours, after Walsh's shank, to fire the o-line coach, so it seems pretty clear that it is their major off-season project. I'm quite surprised that Peterson seems committed to the Vikings; he can't be so dumb as to think thy are going to leave his contract in place, can he? Zimmer seems to have really made an impression on him. Wallace, too, and they'll see if he is willing to take a pay cut. I don't know if they want Kalil back at any price. He was better this year, and that is the most damning of faint praise, but I do know they respect the fact that he has hardly ever missed a snap. He doesn't seem strong enough to make the move to guard.

Points: 0

#38 by Will Allen // Jan 13, 2016 - 1:57pm

It took Zimmer less than 24 hours, after Walsh's shank, to fire the o-line coach, so it seems pretty clear that it is their major off-season project. I'm quite surprised that Peterson seems committed to the Vikings; he can't be so dumb as to think thy are going to leave his contract in place, can he? Zimmer seems to have really made an impression on him. Wallace, too, and they'll see if he is willing to take a pay cut. I don't know if they want Kalil back at any price. He was better this year, and that is the most damning of faint praise, but I do know they respect the fact that he has hardly ever missed a snap. He doesn't seem strong enough to make the move to guard.

Points: 0

#35 by mehllageman56 // Jan 13, 2016 - 1:22pm

The one good thing about the loss this weekend for the Vikings is that they will be drafting ahead of Seattle in every round, since the Seahawks will also be looking to draft offensive linemen. If the Colts, Bills and Jets act as usual (stupidly), perhaps the Vikes can get Decker or Conklin.

Points: 0

#4 by Duff Soviet Union // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:24pm

So Adrian Peterson is displaying bad behaviour that needs to be corrected. Anyone have any ideas here?

Hasn't this jerk fumbled in every big game he's ever been in? The only time he doesn't fumble is when he's holding the switch.

Points: 0

#5 by hscer // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:25pm

The Redskins have led in each of their last seven playoff games and won two, including losses in games they led 13-0, 14-0, and 11-0. Of course, they almost always blow their lead before the fourth quarter, as they did on Sunday.

Points: 0

#6 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:27pm

Not only did 95 bump Porter , but then Burfict bumps the refs, and when PacMan came in swinging he probably* hit a ref (inconclusive on video available).

Of course, since Peko should have been ejected much earlier, and was not, there was no expectation any other clear-cut mandatory ejections would occur.

The NFL should never have assigned this crew to this game, but hey something something uhhhh won't get fooled again.

The standard is the standard!

Points: 0

#8 by optown55 // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:51pm

I am pretty surprised nobody has brought up the clear false start on AJ Green before the play on his go-ahead TD. Just another example of the poor job all around by the officials in that game.

At least someone finally mentioned Gilberry bumping Porter too, which was totally uncalled for and not penalized.

Points: 0

#9 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible // Jan 11, 2016 - 3:55pm

yet I'm the only one who mentioned the even more egregious act(s) that weren't auto-ejections

The standard is the standard!

Points: 0

#11 by TimK // Jan 11, 2016 - 4:12pm

Amazed to hear that Shazier's hit was technically legal, because to me it had more vicious intent than Burflict's (which was excessive and dirty, but he at least didn't lead with his helmet. I've no problem Burflict being heavily fined or even suspended for his history of such dumb and dangerous plays). I think that rule on leading with the helmet has to change to make such a hit illegal in future.

There is a concept in rugby (both league and union) that if you lift an opponent up making a tackle you are responsible for them landing safely. This outlaws so-called dump tackles when a ball carrier would be upended and dumped on their head. A similar thing could be used to allow contact but not hitting on 'defenceless' players - you must wrap and hold not smash and dump. Then the referees can simply call the play dead at that point. if the defenders cannot tackle you as hard for safety reason then you ought to not get benefit of breaking those tackles. It wouldn't stop diving catches, but would reward on target passing.

Points: 0

#23 by Jerry // Jan 12, 2016 - 5:13am

The official is calling what he sees in real time, from wherever he is standing. A flag on Shazier wouldn't have surprised me, but that's not what the guy saw.

Having said that, I expect the league to make more head hits illegal next year, and for that to be an ongoing process as people continue to worry about concussions.

(I also expect the league to announce that the ban on assistant coaches on the field will now be strictly enforced.)

Points: 0

#26 by ChrisS // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:31pm

This is from the CBS website "Shazier used his helmet "to butt, spear or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily," which is a violation of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6(i)."

Points: 0

#29 by Arkaein // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:59pm

I don't believe that Shazier's hit was legal.

Spearing (leading with the crown of the helmet) has been illegal since 1979. The only exception is inside the tackle box, which Bernard certainly wasn't.

Searching the NFL rules online is tedious, but the Wikipedia link for the NFL's 1979 season includes a snippet of the language of the rule, "Players cannot use their helmets to butt, spear, or ram an opponent. Any player who uses the crown or the top of his helmet unnecessarily will be called for unnecessary roughness". I read the full text a few days ago when I looked this stuff up.

I think that this rule simply has not been well enforced in many years, and then recently the NFL added new situational emphasis to the rule regarding defenseless players, but have simply not improved enforcement of the existing rule as it has been on the books for over 35 years.

Points: 0

#13 by joebarnin // Jan 11, 2016 - 7:27pm

"Mike Tomlin still kind of botched the ending as he should have had Roethlisberger take a knee and spike the ball with three seconds left"

There's some risk to that - after taking a knee and lining up for the spike, what if one of the linemen flinches? False Start, 10 second runoff, game over. Admittedly, a small chance of that happening. Maybe smaller than the odds of giving up a TD in the last 14 seconds, but certainly not risk free.

Points: 0

#14 by BaronFoobarstein // Jan 11, 2016 - 8:18pm

Given how things had been going there's also a risk that there would have been a scuffle on the kneel down and someone on the Steelers does something dumb and takes a 15 yard penalty or you could have had Burfict jumping over the line for one last cheap shot on the kneel down and gotten someone else injured or compounding Roethlisberger's. In a normal game I agree with Kacsmar, and heaven knows Tomlin's record on clock management is poor, but I think the decision here was at least defensible.

Points: 0

#15 by techvet // Jan 11, 2016 - 9:18pm

My instinct at the time was also to immediately kick the FG and avoid risking a repeat of the Bridgewater debacle against the Cardinals.

Points: 0

#16 by jamie_k74 // Jan 12, 2016 - 12:56am

Similar here; my thinking was if the snap or hold were botched, the holder can eat the ball, you take a time out, and you've got time to go for it again. Admittedly 8 or so yards further back, but even that's still makeable. To me, having that option was worth leaving 5-10 seconds, or whatever it was, for the Bengals to have a chance at some kind of big KO return & Hail Mary combo. As always, the result was favourable, so the decision looks sound. If for some reason Cinci had come back (again), there no doubt would have been howls about how stupid it was to leave anything on the clock when the FG was attempted. You know, the usual second guessing.

Points: 0

#17 by Shevek // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:12am

I’ve been watching the various replays of the events during AB’s injury and I think I’ve figured out what happened. As the training staff is attending to AB the Cincy defence huddles up in between the prone AB and the Steelers’ sideline. They are desperate, the 15 yard penalty on Burfict will put the Steelers into field goal range. They need to get those 15 yards back. They see Porter on the field and they hatch a plan to instigate a confrontation with Porter and bump him into the Ref when he’s not looking.
The training staff helps AB to his feet and start to push their way through the Cincy huddle. Joey Porter is right behind them. As some of the Cincy defense jog to the Bengals sideline to distract the Refs, Burfict grabs AB’s shoulder and impedes his progress, probably under some pretense of apologizing. But instead of Porter pulling him off AB a trainer does. Burfict gets into a shoving match with the 60 year-old trainer. In a highly exaggerated move Burfict rips his hand away from the trainer, hitting the trainer under the chin, and backhands Porter in the face. Even though he is looking away from Porter it is totally intentional. But unfortunately Porter keeps his calm. He doesn’t say a word. He turns to the Refs, wondering if they saw any of this. He takes a step towards the Ref, Perry.
Burfict then runs around Porter to the other side of the Ref to keep him looking away from Porter. He is probably jawing about Porter being on the field. Gilberry deliberately walks right into the back of Porter bumping him towards the Ref. But it is a failure! The Ref is too far away! Porter turns half way to look at Gilberry. He still keeps his cool. He doesn’t say a word to Gilberry. Burfict does not give up on his plan. As the Ref is looking at him Burfict grabs Porter’s jacket and tries to pull him into the Ref. But the Ref turns to see what Burfict is doing so he lets go. The Cincy defenders form a huddle around Porter. Porter realizes that something is going on or the Ref tells him to get off the field, either way Porter starts to back out of the huddle. On the video you can see Porter doesn’t say a word, he just smiles and nods and continues to back away.
As he watches the plan fall apart Adam Jones starts to get nervous. He is the jittery type, that is why Burfict didn’t give him a role in their nefarious plan. Trying to do something quickly before Porter can back out of the huddle, Jones flies in from nowhere, and runs into the back of the Line Judge, Horton, thinking that pushing Horton into Porter is the same as pushing Porter into a Ref. When he can’t quite get Horton into Porter he reaches out and punches/shoves Porter in one last attempt to instigate a fight. Burfict is left shaking his head at his stupid little teammate who is always ruining his genius plans.

Points: 0

#21 by Herr Gauss Markov // Jan 12, 2016 - 3:57am

If this is serious, then you need to take off your tinfoil hat and go straight to a psychiatrist. My PhD is in psychology, and I'm not kidding (well, except for the part about the tinfoil hat... you can leave that on).

Points: 0

#18 by nicholas1374 // Jan 12, 2016 - 2:15am

What about this rule? Rule 12, Section 2, 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.----- Its a moot point whether or not Bernard was a runner or receiver because it was outside the tackle box, înitiating a hit with the crown of helmet is a penalty. I was at the game, sixth row in the end zone. This being the third botched unsportsmanlike penalty in the game and in favor of Pitt, the fans had enough. Likely the Bengals players had enough too. Second drive of the game, pitt head to head hit a bengals receiver, no flag. Pitt's second FG drive a penalty was thrown on bengals defender for a shoulder to chest hit. This same crew missed throwing a flag on Mike Mitchell's head to head hit on Eifert that resulted in a concussion in week 14. I could see the refs knew they botched everything after Bernard's concussion - they threw two make up penalties on steelers - a phantom hold on the very next play, and a massive, phantom PI to get bengals in position to score their first TD. Those refs failed miserably to control the game.

Points: 0

#19 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible // Jan 12, 2016 - 3:02am

What in the hell are you talking about?
The standard is the standard!

Points: 0

#22 by Bright Blue Shorts // Jan 12, 2016 - 4:37am

Re: 18 - I doubt the same crew missed throwing a flag back in week 14 ... because the playoff crews are different. Certainly it was the same ref, but not the same crew.

We've often talked about what a bad idea it is having "all-star" crews for the playoffs and I wonder how much that applies with the officiating of the Bengals-Steelers game? The "Forming, storming, norming, performing" view of teambuilding is set back from stage 4 to stage 2.

Points: 0

#20 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible // Jan 12, 2016 - 3:42am

"Rule 12, Section 2, 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."

Bernrard was not 3 yards past the Line of Scrimmage when Shazier broke him.

Perhaps the ref confused this fact with the supposed "AND" requirement of the tackle box width?

They certainly blew other calls in the game.... so maybe it's more understandable?

The standard is the standard!

The standard is the standard!

Points: 0

#39 by jtr // Jan 13, 2016 - 2:48pm

I don't have a huge amount of confidence in the referees, but I seriously doubt that their understanding of the rule book is so bad that they think that the tackle box goes wider than the tackles.

Points: 0

#24 by morganja // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:08pm

I have no idea what Scott thinks he sees in the Gliberry gif above? A fine? Seriously? For what?
This is what non-delusional people see:

Gliberry walking past a ref;
As he does so, Porter is backing into the space right behind the ref, into Gilberry's path;
Gilberry stops short;
there is minimal contact;
Gliberry walks on.

Where is the problem, let alone a fine?

Claiming this is worthy of a fine makes everything else in the article less credible.
The Shazier hit, from what everyone else is saying, and the rule which seems applicable, is illegal and should have been flagged. It's ridiculous to try to claim that the ref's should have controlled the game and then excused not throwing a flag on that deadly collision.
I am a fan of neither team, but player safety has to to be the number one priority of the refs. Having failed at that, games 'get out of control'.

Points: 0

#25 by Scott Kacsmar // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:19pm

You're joking, right? I threw in an extra GIF, so maybe you can rethink this one first.

Gilberry's path is right into Porter, then? How is stopping short going right into him? And how are you saying he walked on when he clearly went over there to bitch at Porter? I didn't write about this from the tweeted GIF. I watched all the angles available in the broadcast several times over. It doesn't appear you did.

The crowning rule is very specific and almost never called. It should have been called on Carlos Hyde earlier this year against Jon Beason and wasn't. We'll see if Shazier gets a fine for that hit.

Points: 0

#27 by TTP // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:46pm

Gilberry definitely bumps into Porter on purpose. You can see that he (slightly) nudges his right shoulder and chest into Porter's back. He was trying to get his attention for sure, which is evident in the second GIF. But, it's really no big deal and not worthy of a fine or suspension.

Points: 0

#30 by morganja // Jan 12, 2016 - 2:01pm

What I see isn't intentionally bumping him as much as not going out of his way to avoid it. Either way, nothing worthy of a fine.

Points: 0

#33 by TTP // Jan 12, 2016 - 2:29pm

He nudges his right shoulder and chest forward. It's slight but meant to get Porter's attention. If Porter is backing up Gilberry could have just stopped if he wanted to avoid contact. We do agree that it's really not fine worthy no matter the intent.

Points: 0

#28 by morganja // Jan 12, 2016 - 1:58pm

Watch Gilberry's feet as he passes the ref. He can't avoid Porter, who is backing into the space, because his right foot is planted while he steps past the ref. It would require his right foot to move while his left foot is still in the air. It's possible he might have sideways leaped, but that's asking a bit much, especially of a big man, isn't it?
Do you honestly not see Porter backing into the space behind the ref?
I thought you had all the angles available in the broadcast? :)
In all those videos Porters feet are set the entire time?
Clear your head of what you want to see, and look at what is actually happening in the video.
There is absolutely nothing there to warrant a fine. Except Porter being on the field jawing it up with a bunch of Bengals...

The Shazier hit should have been called. No question about it. Two teams going at each other, losing control of the game, a hit like that is exactly when to throw that flag. Rarely called doesn't matter. That's the perfect time to call it. And keep calling it.... That type of hit has to be eliminated from football.

Points: 0

#31 by Will Allen // Jan 12, 2016 - 2:12pm

This is starting to read like a "Seinfeld" script. Does Keith Hernandez have a guest spot?

Points: 0

#40 by OSS117 // Jan 13, 2016 - 6:55pm

Who's that bringing up the rear in that idiot convoy picture? I can't quite make out the number on his stocking cap.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Scott
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Scott Kacsmar. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Scott.