There is so much blame to spread around, and regardless of where you apply your industrial-strength spatula you may not get it all. However, the Bengals not only failed on the field in their 18-16 loss to the hated rival Pittsburgh Steelers. They set themselves up for failure well beforehand.
You can’t miss the blatant self-control problems displayed in the final minute by Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones. The potentially crippling shoulder-to-head hit by Burfict followed by Jones losing any semblance of cool immediately afterward were the final straws in the Bengals clawing defeat from the clutches of victory.
But there’s more. Coach Marvin Lewis lectured his players, notably Burfict, about maintaining composure as the game teetered in and out of control in the second half. Yet he put Burfict — and Jones, a noted hothead — back on the field at the game’s most critical point.
He had to. Or at least he felt he did. Despite their emotional control problems, Burfict and Jones are among football’s best defenders. And talent rules more decisions now than any other factor in sports. At least in most cases.
But Lewis and the Cincinnati coaching staff, try as they did, could not get those two players to play under control when it was most desperately needed.
So there is that failure.
And there’s more. Burfict and Jones, who have both had more than their share of Meathead Moments in their NFL careers leading up to Saturday night, were pursued by the Bengals because of their talent and potential. It was a calculated risk, weighing potential against potential — the potential for brilliance (witness Burfict’s interception that seemingly sealed a win with under two minutes left) against the potential for catastrophe (which is what most of us will remember from the game). Other players were available that could have made plays and kept their cool. The Bengals decided against those options.
Somebody was bound to lose a playoff game in this fashion, this ugly, unhinged manner that we saw unfold like a train wreck Saturday. It didn’t have to happen, but the Bengals primed themselves to be that team well before this weekend.