There were just 103 seconds remaining in the game, and the Pittsburgh Steelers just gave up the go-ahead touchdown drive to the Bengals, falling behind 16-15. Landry Jones was the last man standing at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger took a hard sack on the final play of the fourth quarter that sent him into the x ray room to get a better look at his shoulder.
It was up to Jones to save the Steelers’ season, and he had the time, with 1:43 and all three timeouts. On first and 10 from the 14-yard line, he dropped back to pass, targeting Markus Wheaton, and completing—to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was drifting into coverage, snaring the game-clinching, season-ending interception.
Or at least that is certainly what it seemed at the time. It would have been awfully hard to predict that the final 96 seconds of the game following that interception would unfold as it did, which ultimately ended in an 18-16 Steelers victory on a late field goal to send them into the divisional round.
Jones, the third-year quarterback who was essentially the Steelers’ fourth option at the position after they lost their primary backup quarterback during the preseason, was certainly poor during the game, completing two of five passes in the fourth quarter for just 11 yards and an interception.
He had come off the bench twice before this season, however, and somehow marshalled the Steelers to a victory, though helped in very large part by an excellent supporting cast, chief among them second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant, to whom he threw three touchdowns passes during the regular season.
Perhaps those early cold appearances set the bar too high for Jones, who was thrust into his first playoff game in the fourth quarter of a miserable, rainy day. But that does not amount to an excuse for his struggles to execute the offense on a basic level.
It was Jones’ inadequacy that forced Roethlisberger back into that game in the first place, and the only reason that he even got a chance to go back into the game in that situation is because the defense was able to make amends by forcing a fumble and recovering it on the play after the interception.
The Steelers knew by that point that Jones gave them no chance of driving down the field, starting from the nine-yard line, to gain about 60 yards or so to attempt the game-winning field goal. The only person who could offer them that chance was Roethlisberger, even if he couldn’t throw the ball with must zest more than 10 yards down the field or so.
The season was over, and then it wasn’t. And then Jones’ night was over, and the rest was history, leading to one of the most bizarre, and ultimately improbable, Steelers postseason victories that I have had the fortune to witness. But the Steelers may need to see more from their former fourth-round quarterback depending on Roethlisberger’s health before this postseason is over.