I had other commitments up until 8:00 PM on Saturday night, but made sure I recorded both of the day's wildcard games and tuned out any spoiler alerts from society.
When I was all settled in at home, I watched the Chiefs vs. Texans game on. If Brian Hoyer would have had any ounce of a competent game, it could have been the down-to-the-wire affair that I expected. Instead, we saw the version of Hoyer that was so bad toward the latter end of the Browns' 2014 season, that then-head-coach Mike Pettine was forced to give in and finally start the ill-prepared Johnny Manziel. The Browns didn't make the playoffs that year, but Hoyer has basically now crushed the playoff hopes of two teams in two years. He can't rebound from this one in regards to being a starting quarterback in 2016.
It was close to 11:00 PM when I was ready to start watching the Steelers vs. Bengals game. Little did I know that one of the worst collapses and outrageous finishes was unfolding in real time. During the first half, I started feeling the "Zzzzzz's" coming on as both teams either struggled in the rainstorm or were incredibly conservative. Wanting to still stay awake from the stakes of an NFL playoff game, especially one from the AFC North, I forced myself awake into the 1:00 AM hour by sitting up and starting to munch on various snacks. That's when the "entertainment," WWE-style, really began (and I'm a big WWE fan).
- Down 15-0 in the fourth quarter, the Bengals got an early touchdown to make it a 15-7 game. LB Vontaze Burfict, who has shown tendencies of being a very dirty player, laid a legal but brutal hit on the shoulder of QB Ben Roethlisberger to take him out of the game, basically rendering Pittsburgh's offense useless for the remainder of the quarter.
- Cincinnati tacked on a field goal with five minutes to go in the game to make it 15-10. The Steelers went three-and-out, and then A.J. McCarron was about to become a legend as he drove down the field and connected with WR A.J. Green on a go-ahead 25-yard touchdown. That gave them a 16-10 lead, but they missed the two-point attempt to try to make it a 3-point game. There was just 1:56 left in the game -- commence the insanity.
- Roethlisberger was back on the sidelines, but Landry Jones threw an interception to Burfict on his first play. The Bengals were already in field goal range with 1:36 left to go. Pittsburgh had all three timeouts, so all Cincinnati had to do was avoid a fumble. On the first play, LB Ryan Shazier stripped RB Jeremy Hill of the football, and Pittsburgh recovered.
- Roethlisberger suddenly returned to the field. Despite having under two minutes to play, all of his throws were short. The feeling was that they'd rather let him do those short throws to the Steelers' talented receivers to give them a shot in space, than to have Jones attack downfield. Roethlisberger didn't seem like he could lift his arm enough to muster throws downfield. On 4th-and-3, the game continued near midfield as Roethlisberger found WR Antonio Brown.
- With 0:28 left, the Steelers had no timeouts left from midfield. Their plan was to take one shot with a intermediate throw to Brown, and if completed, rush up to the line, clock it, and send K Chris Boswell out for about a 45 yard field goal. Instead, Roethlisberger's first longer throw was out-of-the-reach of Brown, and then this happened:
- And before another play was run, Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter was on the field for some reason, and drew a flag because of a slight nudge by CB Adam Jones:
- The first flag turned it into a 49-yard field goal, but the second flag made it a 34-yard chip shot. Boswell connected to give the Steelers a stunning 18-16 victory.
How does the game impact the Browns? First off, they are interviewing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson today in Cincinnati. Although they aren't scheduled to have an interview with him, they might have an interview with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther at some point. If the team wants to hire either person as their head coach, nothing is preventing them from doing so now.
What could complicate matters now is if the Bengals end up dismissing Marvin Lewis as their head coach. As good of a coach as he's been, the Bengals are 0-7 in the playoffs under his reign, including this most recent collapse. If the Bengals dismiss Lewis, they could very well promote Jackson to be their new head coach -- it would keep some stability, but offer a little bit of a culture change. If that happens, would the Browns then enter the race to make Lewis their next head coach? We'll see how things unfold -- follow our coaching tracker here.
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