Exhale. Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati. They’ll knock off Denver next week. We get home field back.
Try running that by Bill Belichick. Better still, keep your mouth shut. He’s on to Kansas City.
Actually, he might have been on to Cincinnati, and Patriot Nation would be treated to a reprise of arguably his most famous press conference ever. But it will be Kansas City coming to Foxborough next Saturday night, and Pittsburgh heading to Denver next Sunday, after two interesting games on Saturday which featured disgraceful performances by both losers, for different reasons.
Kansas City went down to NRG Stadium to play the Houston Texans, the champion of the awful AFC South. Houston made its case for the biggest flaw in the current playoff system, as it lost to the Chiefs, 30-0. Former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer turned in one of the worst quarterback performances in recent postseason memory, as Houston suffered five turnovers in the game. Knile Davis ran back the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, and the Chiefs never looked back.
Anyone connected with the New York Jets had to watch that game with their teeth gnashing. The Texans were not the fourth best team in the AFC. They weren’t even the sixth best. Granted, this has happened to other divisions in other years and not only to the AFC South. But the biggest problem with the current playoff format is that you get a division every now and then where the champion finishes near the .500 mark. Even worse was Seattle in 2010, who won the NFC West and hosted a playoff game despite finishing with a 7-9 record (they actually won that home matchup with New Orleans before losing the next week at Chicago).
The general consensus is that if you win your division, no matter how bad your division is that year, you get to make the playoffs and host a Wild Card game. This is simply the AFC South’s turn to be abysmally bad. The Indianapolis Colts were actually alive for the division title last weekend, and would have won it if they had won their last game and had nine other games break their way to win a strength of schedule tiebreaker. Either way, whomever got to go to the AFC South champ would have had a nice path to the Divisional round.
So Kansas City won a game they were favored to win. The second game, Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, would determine where the Chiefs would go.
Patriot Nation would be best served if the Steelers were to win, which would then send Bronco-killer Ben Roethlisberger to Denver next weekend and Kansas City to Foxborough. Pittsburgh was a three-point favorite over the playoff-challenged Bengals.
In a driving rainstorm for most of the game at Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers managed to hold backup quarterback A.J. McCarron in check for most of the game. A defensive struggle, the Steelers carried a 15-0 lead into the fourth quarter. The game turned chaotic in the fourth quarter, then finished in a most disgusting fashion as a late field goal lifted the Steelers over the Bengals, 18-16.
Like the Chiefs, the Bengals have had problems over the last few decades winning playoff games. The Chiefs hadn’t won a postseason game since 1994; the Bengals last won in the postseason in 1990. Marvin Lewis has coached the Bengals to five straight postseasons, but has yet to win a postseason game as head coach. It isn’t so much that the Bengals lost, it was how they lost which will have the football world wondering about Lewis’ fitness to continue as Cincinnati head coach.
Leading 16-15 with 1:50 to go, Cincinnati kicked off to Pittsburgh and the Steelers took over at the 14. Backup QB Landry Jones was forced into action when Roethlisberger was tackled hard by Vontaze Burfict and injured his throwing shoulder a few drives back. On the first play, Jones fired over the middle towards Markus Wheaton and Burfict picked it off, seemingly ending the game despite Pittsburgh still having three timeouts. But on their first play, Jeremy Hill ran six yards off right tackle, then was stripped of the ball by Ryan Shazier. Ross Cockrell recovered the fumble at the 9-yard line.
Roethlisberger had to come back into the game with the season on the line. Unable to throw even a medium distance pass let alone a deep ball, Big Ben managed to drive Pittsburgh to the Cincinnati 47 thanks to a 12-yard pass to Antonio Brown on fourth and three. The next play sent this game into the execrable category, and the Bengals may take a long time to recover from it.
Roethlisberger tried to hit Brown on a slant route over the middle to get into field goal range. Brown was blasted in the head by Burfict, playing like a crazed man since a monster hit on Giovanni Bernard late in the third quarter. Burfict was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Adam (Pacman) Jones was also flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a scuffle with Steeler linebacker coach Joey Porter. The ball was moved 30 yards to the Cincinnati 17-yard line, and Chris Boswell nailed a 35-yard field goal for the win.
The Bengals were excoriated by several media folks for the ending of the game. CBS’s Phil Simms called the Bengals “disgraceful”, and former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason called his former team “disgusting”. Esiason called for Lewis’ removal as head coach. In a postgame interview, Burfict answered a lot of reporters’ questions with “I don’t know”. In truth, Jones’ penalty was more damaging than Burfict’s, but his out of control approach to the fourth quarter will go down in infamy in the long history of Cincinnati football.
Pittsburgh now heads to Denver. But how is Roethlisberger? CBS’s Tracy Wolfson twice asked Big Ben how he was, and both times he said, “We won the game!” He gave that same answer in his postseason press conference. Roethlisberger, who won a playoff game in Denver in 2005 on his way to a win in Super Bowl XL (they were a six seed that year also), was obviously not anywhere near one hundred percent at the end of the game. Pittsburgh can pray for bad weather and another Peyton Manning one-and-done stink job, but if they have to rely on Jones at QB instead of Big Ben, whoever is quarterbacking Denver won’t matter.
Meanwhile, Belichick could care less about Pittsburgh, or Denver, at least right now. He’s on to Kansas City.
Patriot players who recall the now infamous 41-14 loss on a Monday night last season during Week 4 (“Will there be a re-evaluation of the quarterback position?”) might be in a revenge mood. The rematch will be in Foxborough, of course, and not Arrowhead Stadium. The Patriots are 7-2 at home against the Chiefs since the merger. The game may hinge on how many injured Patriot starters can play the game and be somewhat near normal capabilities.
So, there are two major rooting interests next weekend. Here’s to the good health of Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower and Sebastian Vollmer. And Go Steelers.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary