Injured Roethlisberger rallies Steelers to improbable victory

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier hits Bengals running back Giovani Bernard during the fourth quarter of their AFC wild-card game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Cincinnati.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier hits Bengals running back Giovani Bernard during the fourth quarter of their AFC wild-card game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Cincinnati.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
| Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, 12:06 a.m.

CINCINNATI — If there was any way the Steelers wanted to win — to beat the rival Cincinnati Bengals on their own field to advance to the divisional round — it would have to be like how it went down Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

You can say it was a “Burfict” way for the Steelers to win.

Vontaze Burfict — the man who was fined nearly $70,000 the last time the teams played, Mr. I Hate Pittsburgh — turned from hero to goat in a matter of seconds, propelling the Steelers to an improbable 18-16 win.

“That guy is something special,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said, rolling his eyes.

Burfict did all he could to help the Bengals erase a 15-0, fourth-quarter lead by knocking out Ben Roethlisberger on the final play of the third quarter and then intercepting backup Landry Jones with less than 90 seconds remaining.

But Burfict apparently had other ideas.

His head shot to receiver Antonio Brown, followed by teammate Adam Jones' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the call, with 22 seconds left moved the ball from the 47-yard line to the 17.

Chris Boswell's 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds was the difference.

“We will take this victory and move forward,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We feel very fortunate to have gone into a hostile environment versus a good team.”

The Steelers (11-6) will travel to Denver to face the top-seeded Broncos (12-4) next Sunday in the AFC divisional round. The Steelers defeated the Broncos, 34-27, on Dec. 20 at Heinz Field.

As for the Bengals, this marked their seventh straight first-round playoff loss under Marvin Lewis.

“We had a lot of things not break our way,” Lewis said. “It's disappointing.”

“What an unbelievable team win and a great fight by both teams,” Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones said.

The game's ugly moments included fans throwing objects at Roethlisberger while he was being carted off with a shoulder injury and the Steelers running into their locker room and not shaking hands with the Bengals.

But consider what happened earlier:

• Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak pulling the hair and twisting the Bengals' Reggie Nelson around on the sidelines that resulted in an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

• The Bengals' Domata Peko coming onto the field from the sidelines — while wearing a raincoat — to push Fitzgerald Toussaint in the back.

• A 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration for a touchdown that never happened.

• The Steelers' Cam Thomas, of all people, recovering a fumble and rumbling down the field.

• A somersault touchdown in which the Steelers' Martavis Bryant somehow managed to hold onto the ball while pinning it to his backside.

“Wow,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Never seen anything like that before. I am just glad to be on the winning side of that.”

Everything was going right for the Steelers through three quarters. Their running game was producing despite having to play Toussaint and Jordan Todman in place of the injured DeAngelo Williams.

The defense was just as good, keeping the Bengals off the scoreboard for three quarters.

It all changed on the final play of the third quarter.

Burfict sacked Roethlisberger, who landed on his shoulder. Roethlisberger was carted to the locker room, and the Bengals made their charge.

Running back Jeremy Hill scored from 1 yard out to make it 15-7, Mike Nugent kicked a 36-yard field goal, and A.J. Green caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on third down with 1:50 left over William Gay to make it 16-15.

One play later, Burfict intercepted Landry Jones.

It seemingly was over.

“Oh, man, trust me, it killed us,” Moats said. “We were like, ‘Man, this could really be it.' But once we gathered ourselves, we said if they run any plays that we have to strip it.”

The Bengals ran one play, and Ryan Shazier did just that.

“Sometimes it is just your will,” Shazier said. “Guys were holding him up, and I was tugging at it, and once I felt it loose I got it.”

That's when Roethlisberger looked at Tomlin, and Tomlin looked at Roethlisberger.

“We kind of looked at each other and said now or never,” Tomlin said.

The Steelers had a little more than a minute to get into field-goal range. Roethlisberger re-entered the game and led them to the 47-yard line.

That's when Burfict was flagged for hitting Brown in the head, and Jones was flagged for 15 more yards for arguing the play.

That moved Boswell into range.

“There's no real difference between a 50-yard and a 35-yarder,” Boswell said. “I hit it pretty good and knew it was good.”

The Steelers got a solid ground game from Todman (65 yards) and Toussaint (58 yards). Roethlisberger finished 18 of 29 for 229 yards and a touchdown, while Brown added seven catches for 119 yards.

“There is no quit in these guys,” Roethlisberger said. “I am just so proud of so many guys. You have to find any way possible to win.”

The win was Burfict.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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