The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first postseason victory since the 2010 AFC Championship game included six turovers. In their previous three postseason games, there were four, two, and three turnovers, respectively. The Steelers lost or tied the turnover margin in each of those games, all three of which they came out on the losing end.
But last night, the defense stepped up in a big way, even considering relinquishing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter to give up three straight scoring drives, because they still held the Bengals to 16 total points, and that had a lot to do with coming out on top of the turnover margin by a 4-2 differential.
Among those turnovers was an intercepted pass on a badly underthrown ball, Antwon Blake being the defending player on the receiving endo of that pass, for the fourth interception of his career. It was the first interception recorded by the Steelers in the playoffs since Ryan Clark intercepted Joe Flacco in the 2010 divisional playoff contest against the Ravens, five games ago.
But in this game, the defense also recorded three fumble recoveries, all three of them big plays coming at key moments of the game. They all came from their first-round linebackers over the past three drafts, who were making plays for this tenacious and resilient unit.
The first fumble came on the final play of the Bengals’ opening drive in the second half, just after a big 38-yard run. Jarvis Jones bull rushed the left tackle and forced his way into the backfield, knocking the ball out of the hands of AJ McCarron for the strip sack, recovered by Cam Thomas. The Steelers scored a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Later in the game, on another possession in which the Bengals were driving, Ryan Shazier sent Giovani Bernard to a screeching halt after coming up with a third-down reception, knocking the ball out and recovering it himself, though the offense went on to bumble that possession, even including knocking Ben Roethlisberger out for almost the rest of the game.
But it was the second forced fumble by Shazier that prompted Roethlisberger to re-enter the game, just after his backup, Landry Jones, threw was seemed to be a season-ending interception with about 100 or so seconds left in the game.
Jeremy Hill tried to fight for extra yards on the next play, hoping to achieve a first down to seal the game, but after a six-yard gain, Shazier popped the ball out, and the Steelers recovered at their own nine-yard line. Roethlisberger was just barely able to muster up the game-winning drive, ending in a field goal to advance to the next round.
Earlier in the game, Markus Wheaton fumbled for the first time in his career after he tried to steady himself after avoiding a tackler by using his possession hand to leverage off the ground. The ball popped loose as a result and the Bengals recovered, but the Steelers controlled the turnover battle for most of the rest of the game, with Cameron Heyward also forcing a fumble that the Bengals were able to recover.