The Pittsburgh Steelers capitalised on a late turnover to snatch a dramatic 18-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in an ill-tempered AFC Wild Card playoff game on Saturday.
The Bengals looked to beat their bitter rivals when they roared back with 16 fourth-quarter points to erase a 15-0 deficit and then gained control of the ball with less than two minutes remaining following a Vontaze Burfict interception.
But in trying to run the clock down, running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball to hand the Steelers possession deep in their own territory, prompting Ben Roethlisberger to return from some time out of the game with a shoulder injury after a crunching sack and march his team down the field.
They looked to have stalled at halfway, but two personal foul calls – a ferocious late hit to the head by Burfict against receiver Antonio Brown and another 15-yard personal foul to cornerback Adam Jones – gifted them field position for Chris Boswell to knock over a 35-yard field goal.
Pittsburgh had earlier stretched their lead on the back of three other Boswell kicks thanks to a brilliant third-period touchdown catch by Martavis Bryant, who pinned the ball to the back of his thigh as he tumbled and somersaulted out of the back of the end zone.
But they were pinned back after Roethlisberger was sacked near his own goalline and forced out of the game, sparking the Bengals into life.
A 42-yard pass interference penalty on an AJ McCarron bomb thrown for A.J. Green put the Bengals on the four-yard line, allowing Hill to run in from two yards for 15-7 and after a Mike Nugent field goal, McCarron’s toss to Green on the right touchline put Cincinnati ahead.
But Hill’s late error, combined with the penalties, ensured Boswell would have the final say and set up a clash with the Denver Broncos.
“It’s an emotional football game. Emotional football players, emotional playoffs, everything,” said Roethlisberger after the game. “I’m just so proud of everybody, players stepped up.”
When asked about his shoulder, the quarterback said: “We got a win, that’s all that matters.”
A distraught Hill added: “Our defense played their butts off and made an interception that pretty much sewed up the game. I let the fans down, and the coach down and let my team mates down. It’s on me.”