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It wasn't pretty but the Steelers-Bengals playoff game was high drama

SCI publisher Jim Wexell has a few things to say about Saturday night's Instant Classic of a playoff game.

A friend of mine in the media posted a glowing review about last night's college football championship game on Facebook. He wrote:

"No taunting. No Jawing. Not the crap we see every week in the NFL."

I'm assuming he was referring to the Taunt/Jaw/Crap Fest from Cincinnati that everyone seems to be ridiculing right now.

Of course, I pretty much turned off the rest of the world after a writer named Mike Wise tapped out the following tweet late in the Steelers-Bengals playoff game:

"The AJs and the Bengals just rescued one of the most unwatchable eyesores in NFL playoff history and turned it into decent drama."

He was retweeted with aplomb by national media royalty.

Really?

Because I thought the Steelers-Bengals game was high drama from the very first field-goal drive.

Was it better than the national championship game last night? I don't know. I fell asleep at halftime last night and can't speak intelligently on the matter.

Of course, you're going to use that last phrase against me in describing the rest of the nonsense I'm about to write here this morning. But if it's nonsense you want, then it's nonsense I've got because I thought the two best games this football season -- which can be also described as Taunt/Jaw/Crap Fests -- were the last two Steelers-Bengals games.

And that's saying something because I watched the outstanding Steelers-Seahawks game, too.

Now, I don't normally like "chippiness," or Taunting/Jawing/Crapping after every play, as was seemingly the case in the last two Steelers-Bengals games. I mean, I was the only football fan in America who despised those old Miami-Florida State rivalry games for national supremacy back in the early 90s because of the non-stop chippiness. Wow, those games were ugly.

But maybe I only appreciate Steelers-Bengals because I know the history. I know that Reggie Nelson submarined Le'Veon Bell with a helmet to the knee to knock him out of last year's playoff game. I know that Vontaze Burfict grabbed Bell by the collar, pulled him backward, and used the leverage to throw all of his weight into Bell'e knee this year to knock him out of this year's playoff games. I know Burfict then went after Ben Roethlisberger's knee. I just know that the Bengals take cheap shots and have been allowed to get away with them.

Not in the second meeting. The Steelers refused to allow karma to take its natural course.

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourselves, and that's what the Steelers did in that second meeting of 2015. They stooped to the Bengals' level and their intensity paid off with a win. It was their most satisfying performance, even if it wasn't aesthetically pleasing to those who didn't appreciate the circumstances put forth by the cheapshotting Bengals.

Were the Steelers supposed to revert to their sportsmanlike approach of Game 1 between these teams in the playoffs?

I don't know. You tell me. But I thought their intensity -- and determination to not take any Taunt/Jaw/Crap from these ridiculous Bengals -- was not only warranted but necessary.

Mainstream America may not have liked it. And if I hadn't been privy to the background between the teams I probably wouldn't have liked it, either. But I thought this playoff game was high drama from beginning to end. Every snap was significant. And every cheap shot was accounted for.

QUICK HITTERS

* Prediction: Mike Tomlin will be asked about Joey Porter today and he will say, "I've talked to him and our conversation will remain between us."

It will be Tomlin's way of moving on.

And just about every other topic from the Bengals game might get that same treatment because the 48-hour rule is in effect.

Reporters could ask questions all day and night about this past game, and we could write all day and into the next night about the humanity (or lack thereof) of the high-stakes drama that played out Saturday night. But that's the key: Saturday night.

On Sunday the Steelers' PR department made the brilliant move of providing access to a few players. On Monday, since the media had already been given access, the players could be given off. On Tuesday, Tomlin shapes the message, and he can say "It's time to move on."

And for the players, it has to be. The circumstances will allow them to focus on Denver when the world still wants to talk about Cincinnati.

* I did find it ironic -- or kar-matic -- when I looked back at the tape of Jim Nantz exclaiming early in the game that "A coach pushed a player!" It was the sideline dust-up between Mike Munchak and Nelson. The irony, of course, is that the Steelers won the game when a Bengals player pushed a Steelers coach.

* That player should've been Wallace Gilberry, who slammed Porter into Burfict before Adam Jones went over the top of an official to get at Porter and instead drew the flag.

* Except for his interception, Antwon Blake was barely noticeable Saturday night. He did allow a third-and-3 conversion on a short pass. And he took a poor angle on Jeremy Hill's 38-yard run down the right sideline. But that's about it. Not a bad night for Blake against a young QB who looked to his right nearly every pass play.

* Whenever I see a flag thrown on a minor celebration, I shake my head and disagree. I don't care if it's in the rule book because I never would've called the Tuck Rule to help Tom Brady back in the 2001 playoffs. I really don't appreciate when officials feel the need to parse the words of a rule book to make a call they know is wrong. And throwing a flag on a minor celebration because Bud Dupree stood well back of Will Gay and flapped his arms a couple of times was a case of a guy digging too deep into the rule book to make another tuck call. It just ain't right.

* Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette reported Monday that Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown should play Sunday. That was discounted by a national report stating Brown will have a difficult road back. Trust Dulac on this. I understand it's too early to make the call either way, but Dulac's injury reports are usually gold, no matter how much the league would rather its own reporters break the stories.

BURFICT V. SHAZIER

I've grown tired of reading that Burfict ruined an otherwise great performance with his vicious "attempted assasination" -- as Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey put it -- of Brown that led to the Steelers' game-winning field goal. I thought the Steelers' own linebacker, Ryan Shazier, played much better. So I went back to watch both closely and this is how I broke it down:

First Quarter

Burfict: A tackle-for-loss on the first play started the media lovefest. The only other noteworthy plays were him being blocked by Ramon Foster on a 9-yard run, him being flagged for holding Heath Miller that was declined, him barking at officials after plays, and him being blocked by Darrius Heyward-Bey on another chunk run.

Shazier: Had a tackle-for-loss on the first play but received no media love. He did bounce off TE Tyler Eifert once but tackled Hill for another loss.

Second Quarter

Burfict: Post-play skirmish with Cody Wallace after Wallace blocked him at the second level; post-play skirmish with Foster and went whining to officials; indirectly caused Markus Wheaton's fumble after tripping him; caused a 15-yard penalty on Foster after stomping on Foster's foot; pressured an incompletion with a blitz; beaten badly by Brown over the middle for an 11-yard gain; and beat in coverage by Fitzgerald Toussaint, who dropped a pass for what would've been "a 10, 15-yard gain."

Shazier: Touched QB down after fumbled snap; ran interference for Blake on his interception return; allowed 0 run-after-catch yards on short pass; nearly intercepted pass to Eifert that he instead broke up.

Third Quarter

Burfict: Blocked and then pushed into Steelers backfield by Matt Spaeth to allow Martavis Bryant's cutback on 44-yard run; tackled runner for no gain; flattened by David DeCastro on 6-yard run; blocked by Alejandro Villanueva on 7-yard run; stoned by Wallace on blitz attempt during Brown's 60-yard catch-and-run; flattened at goal line by DeCastro on next play. (After Bryant's touchdown on the next play, the sideline reporter said, "(Burfict) is out of control right now. The coaches, Marvin Lewis trying to hold him back. He just went back on the field.) And with that, Heath Miller planted Burfict on his back during another Toussaint run. Later in the series, he sacked and injured Roethlisberger (and cheaply kneed the QB in the shoulder).

Shazier: Shot through three blockers to stop a TE screen; blitzed and pressured an incompletion; blew up Gio Bernard and forced a fumble which should've been ruled a Steelers touchdown. (After that play, TV official Mike Carey said of the hit on Bernard, "The receiver is no longer defenseless when he becomes a runner. He got two steps down, turned all the way upfield. They determine that was not a defenseless receiver, just a very unfortunate hit.")

Fourth Quarter

Burfict: Jesse James flattened him on a run play and he complained to the officials; skirmish with Anthony Chickillo after a kick return; interception with 1:36 remaining and ran with ball out the opposite end zone and into the tunnel (no penalty called); lost Toussaint on a third-and-2 pass play that was converted; attempted to murder Brown that resulted in game-winning penalties.

Shazier: Missed tackle on screen pass; picked up by blockers on back-to-back blitzes; pressured QB into incompletion; read two-point conversion play from the snap and made tackle behind the line; caused game-turning fumble by Hill; batted Hail Mary pass straight into the ground.

I don't know how you grade but even though Shazier wasn't perfect, he wasn't Burfict. And for that Steelers fans are thankful.


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