CINCINNATI — Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal with 18 seconds left gave the Pittsburgh Steelers an 18-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, who just moments earlier appeared to have finally ended their 25-year streak of playoff futility in a wild AFC wild-card playoff game played in steady rain on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron’s 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver A.J. Green gave theBengals the lead with 1:50 to play after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was carted off with a shoulder injury after being sacked by linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the third quarter.
It appeared the Bengals had clinched the victory on Burfict’s interception with 1:43 left. But running back Jeremy Hill’s fumble gave the ball back to Pittsburgh.
Just when it appeared McCarron would be the hero, Roethlisberger re-entered the game. A 15-yard penalty on Burfict for a hit to the head of receiver Antonio Brown was followed by a personal foul flag on cornerback Adam Jones and that moved the ball into position for Boswell’s chip-shot game-winner.
McCarron, making his fourth start in place of injured starter Andy Dalton, overcame an erratic first half to finish 23-of-40 for 212 yards and a touchdown. He also had a lost fumble and an interception.
Roethlisberger finished 18-of-31 for 229 yards and a touchdown.
Three field goals by Pittsburgh accounted for all the offense in the first half.
But a 60-yard catch and run by Brown in the third quarter helped set up an acrobatic 10-yard touchdown catch by receiver Martavis Bryant.
Replay confirmed that Bryant secured the ball with one hand between his legs while falling out of bounds to put Pittsburgh ahead 15-0.
A scuffle broke out after Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier levied a hard hit on Bengals running back Gio Bernard, whose fumble was recovered by Pittsburgh at their own 25.
A few angry fans who felt there should’ve been a flag for helmet-to-helmet hit tossed bottles on the field. A couple were sent in the direction of Roethlisberger as he was carted off.
Momentum swung in the Bengals‘ favor when a 42-yard pass interference penalty on safety Will Allen set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Hill to make the score 15-7.
The Bengals got a 36-yard field goal to get within 15-10 with 5:12 left.
Cincinnati’s next possession began at Pittsburgh’s 45 with 3:28 left. On fourth-and-2 at the 37, McCarron passed to Marvin Jones for a 9-yard gain to set up Green’s go-ahead touchdown.
The game featured the usual chippiness between these two AFC North rivals, with two unsportsmanlike penalties and two personal fouls called in the first half.
In the second quarter, Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Munchak was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when he appeared to grab Reggie Nelson’s dreadlocks after theBengals free safety forced running back Jordan Todman out of bounds at the Pittsburgh sideline.
Nelson later left the game with a left ankle injury.
The rain became steady and heavier in the first half, resulting in some sloppy play from McCarron, who had a pair of fumbles in the second quarter (both recovered by Cincinnati).
McCarron then had a deep pass to Jones fall short and intercepted by Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake, who returned it 35 yards to the Bengals‘ 41.
The interception led to the game’s first points: a 39-yard field goal by Boswell. He added a 30-yarder just before halftime to make the score 6-0.
There were a combined nine punts and two turnovers in the first half.
Toussaint had a big first half, with two catches for 43 yards and 11 carries for 38 yards. At one point in the second quarter, Toussaint went to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion, but he returned.
NOTES: Cincinnati’s last playoff victory came on Jan. 6, 1991. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis now is 0-7 in the postseason during his tenure. … Steelers RB DeAngelo Williams was inactive with a foot injury suffered last week at Cleveland. … After these teams met in December, the NFL handed out nearly $140,000 in fines – more than half levied against Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. … Bengals QB Andy Dalton had the cast removed from his fractured right thumb and worked on gripping the ball this week in practice, but on Friday he was officially ruled out of this game.