CINCINNATI – Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin shared a glance. Then a nod.
The Bengals were going to get their first playoff victory in 25 years. Until the glance and the nod.
Roethlisberger had suffered a shoulder injury on the final play of the third quarter and re-entered the game following Ryan Shazier's strip of Jeremy Hill on the Bengals’ first play after Vontaze Burfict had intercepted Jones. Ross Cockrell recovered and Roethlisberger looked over.
“I was at the other end of the field and Coach Tomlin kind of looked down at me, kind of like give me the nod,” said Roethlisberger.
“It was dire,” said Tomlin, who had watched his team blow a 15-0 lead with Roethlisberger in the locker room. “Ben and I have been together for nine years. We kind of looked at each other and said now or never.”
Chalk this 18-16 playoff victory Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Bengals to their ability to stay cool in the face of the greatest adversity.
Roethlisberger, who had been injured on a sack by Burfict, couldn’t throw down the field. Most of his eight passes – he completed five for 40 yards – were dumpoffs or of a shorter variety.
“(Offensive coordinator Todd Haley) called one deep one in there,” said Roethlisberger. “Obviously you had to because time was running out. I went over to the sideline and told him, ‘You can’t do that again. I can’t throw it that far.’ We had to work our way down the field.
But it didn’t matter, because the Bengals imploded.
After a 12-yard completion to Antonio Brown put the ball at the Cincinnati 47, Roethlisberger went back to the well again, this time overthrowing Brown.
As Brown came down to the ground without the ball, Burfict hit him in the head, knocking the Steelers’ star receiver out and drawing a 15-yard penalty.
As Brown was examined on the field by team doctors, Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones was penalized another 15 yards for a dust-up with Steelers LBs coach Joey Porter, who was on the field. With the additional 30 yards, the Steelers sent Chris Boswell on to the field for a game-winning 35-yard field goal.
In the locker room, Burfict was the main topic again.
“Man, that guy will get his,” said Steelers safety Mike Mitchell. “That guy’s something special.”
“The thing is," Mitchell said, "if you watch him, he’s a talented football player. He’s just, uh, a little extra.”
The extra was just enough to send the Steelers on to Denver next Sunday.
@ Where does this rank among Steelers’ playoff wins?
Certainly not up there with any Super Bowl victories, but some of the guys who have been through those put it up there pretty high.
“Man, coming to Cincinnati and winning like that, it’s pretty special,” said James Harrison.
“It feels pretty good to come to Cincinnati and getting this win, this way,” said Roethlisberger. “I am so proud of so many guys.
“It was pretty crazy. Those last two minutes were absolutely bizarre. There is no quit in this team."
“I haven’t won a playoff game in a while, so this one feels good,” said Heath Miller. “And to do it that way, well, it was pretty special.”
With Todman gaining 65 yards on 11 carries and Toussaint 58 on 17 attempts, the Steelers ran for 167 yards against a stout Cincinnati defense.
“We had a great deal of confidence in Fitz,” said Tomlin. “Not based on his resume, but what we see day-to-day. … He did what we expected him to do.”
The two backs also played well in the passing game, both picking up blitzes and catching the ball. Toussaint caught four passes for 60 yards.
“They did a great job,” said guard David DeCastro. “They really stepped up and performed when we needed it.”