Cornerback Cortez Allen was hanging his head in the locker room after he felt the second one – the game-winning one – was his fault.
"If I get a little more depth," said Allen, "maybe I could help out a little more on that play."
Allen felt responsible for the 21-yard pass to A.J. Green that resulted in the game-winning field goal and a 13-10 Bengals win that ended the Steelers' post-season chances.
Of course, Allen wasn't responsible for the catch, but he was responsible for causing the otherwise somber Ryan Clark to crack a smile.
"You know how it goes when you lose a close game," said Clark, the Steelers' free safety. "Everybody's replaying one or two plays that they could've done differently. Cortez is going to beat himself up about that a lot, but he shouldn't. He played a great game, man. They just called a good play."
Allen, the second-year pro who made his first career start the previous week in Dallas, was assigned the monumental challenge of defending Green – the Bengals' best offensive player – after injuries eliminated Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis from being given the assignment.
Taylor, of course, has been out since the first play of the Dec. 2 game in Baltimore, and Lewis played Sunday but was so hobbled from hip and knee injuries that the coaching staff looked elsewhere for the key cover man of the defensive game plan.
"The coaches were trying to figure out how we were going to match-up," Clark said. "And Cortez said, ‘He puts his pants on one leg at a time like me.' He wanted the matchup and I think he did an exceptional job."
Allen didn't shadow Green on every play, but as Allen put it, "most of the game."
Green did catch 10 passes for 116 yards, but Allen was sensational. He intercepted 2 passes, forced a fumble, broke up a key third-down pass, and made 7 tackles.
On a team starving for turnovers, Allen proved to be a horn of plenty.
"It was amazing," Clark said. "He made HUGE plays today. I'm talking about interceptions, and just the hustle of the one on the sideline. Obviously it was a clean break on the first [other interception]. But even forcing the fumble was an effort play."
The first interception, made after breaking in front of Andrew Hawkins on the first play of the second half, set the Steelers up at the Cincinnati 32.
The fourth-quarter fumble was caused a play after Allen had been flagged for a 28-yard pass interference penalty. Allen responded by stripping Green of the ball, which Clark recovered.
Allen's second interception occurred on the next Bengals series when Josh Victorian batted a pass back into play and Allen made a diving catch, his knee landing in bounds just in time.
However, none of Allen's big plays resulted in points for a Steelers offense that gave the Bengals their only touchdown on an interception return.
"Going into the game I knew I had to be technically sound and focused," said Allen. "I had some ups; I had some downs. I was just able to stay focused and I had some success. But there are some plays out there I wish I could've got back."
"I tell Cortez all the time he has a distinguishing characteristic that's his best characteristic, and his worst," said Clark. "He never panics. Never. So if he's beat, and you don't panic, that's bad because you need to panic to get back. But when he's in the right place he never panics, and that bodes well when you play against A.J. Green because he's going to catch some balls. But when A.J. made some plays, Cortez came right back.
"I think if you looked at it, I think Cortez had more of an impact on the game than A.J. was."