The Pittsburgh Steelers lost, and nobody could be happier about it than the Denver Broncos, the team to beat them. Except maybe the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers, of course, beat the Bengals in the Wildcard round on a late field goal that was greatly aided by a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Cincinnati’s two most hot-headed defenders to produce 30 yards’ worth of penalties.
The rivalry between the two teams has been fueled and refueled in recent years, and has been by far its most intense in a long time, with the fact that both teams have been playing well factoring into that equation.
One could argue, in fact, that the two teams have had more to do with their seasons failing this year than anybody, with both teams suffering key injuries, and key losses, to the other. The Bengals, of course, not only ended the season of Le’Veon Bell in each of the last year years, they also knocked out Antonio Brown with a concussion in the Wildcard game, and injured Ben Roethlisberger’s throwing shoulder.
At that point in that game, the Steelers had a 15-0 lead that they gave up over the course of the next three defensive possessions. It took a series of improbable events, including an unlikely Roethlisberger return, to lead the game-winning field goal drive.
Meanwhile, the Steelers’ late regular season victory over the Bengals likely prevented them from locking down a bye week, and they also knocked out Andy Dalton with a thumb injury. So both teams have plenty to gripe about regarding the other.
And the Bengals certainly are, with many players on their roster reacting rather positively on social media in response to the Steelers’ loss to the Broncos. And it should be no surprise that the NFL has been more than happy to make it a headline on its website to fuel the rivalry and generate drama, and, you know, clicks.
You can read some of the reactions there, including Rey Mauluga’s hashtag declaration that he can now finally sleep in peace knowing that the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs. That certainly seems to be an indication that revenge is a high priority on the minds of these players.
There will be no love lost between the Bengals and Steelers when they collide again next year for at least two games, especially if Vontaze Burfict, who will start the 2015 regular season serving a three-game suspension in large part because of his conduct against the Steelers.
One figures it will continue to be the standard chippy affair that has defined these matchups for the last two games, and has been continually descending into something less than admirable when it comes to the integrity of the game.
I have no doubt that some of this type of behavior goes one back and forth from members of both teams, but it certainly seems telling that several Bengals players would elicit such a strong reaction because of a playoff game that they’re not involved in.