While the spotlight remains on the behavior of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, along with their unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, they certainly should not overshadow some great performances by several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, during their AFC Wildcard matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. These are literally the kind of performances that are characteristic of teams that are legitimate contenders to win championships and that can define a season. The Steelers faced several questions coming into this game, that they had to answer in order to walk out of Cincinnati with a win, and the first question was very similar to what they faced going into the postseason last year, what were they going to do for a running game? For a second straight year the Steelers were without their top running back, Le’Veon Bell, heading into the postseason. This year, they would be with top backup, Deangelo Williams, as well. The Steelers decided they would go with their third and fourth string running backs, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman because they knew the system and had confidence in them both.
Toussaint and Todman (TNT) did not disappoint, and they more than held their own on a cold and miserable night. Fitzgerald Toussaint picked up 58 yards on 17 carries and picked up an additional 60 yards on four receptions, including a nifty over the shoulder grab for 7 yards and a critical first down, on the final drive of the game. Jordan Todman carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards, with his longest run going for 25 yards. Combined, they more than made up for Deangelo Williams, who should be ready to go in time for next Sunday’s Divisional round game in Denver. Another offensive weapon who needed to show up was Martavis Bryant, who was challenged earlier in the week by Ben Roethlisberger, to toughen up. Over the previous two weeks, all Bryant could muster up was two receptions for six yards, while dropping a few passes that Ben thought he should have come up with. Bryant stood up, acccepted Ben’s challenge, and came through with what could be the catch of the year in the back corner of the endzone to give the Steelers a 15-0 lead in the third quarter. He also carried the ball once for 44 yards, and threw some nice blocks to help the running game.
It may not have been a huge statistical game for Martavis Bryant, but it was a game in which he came through when called upon, just like Chris Boswell. Boswell wasn’t signed until early October, but he has been money when called upon. While everyone who has watched this young man kick, has come away impressed with his poise, the big question was, could he do it under the pressure of the postseason scrutiny. The answer is a resounding yes. Bos, was a perfect 4-4 including the game winner with about 18 seconds left in the game.It may have been the toughest 35 yarder he has ever kicked, given the circumstances of the game, and what went down, but he nailed it like there was no pressure at all. The Steelers definitely don’t win the game without Boswell, who kicked his four field goals flawlessly in much less than ideal conditions.
For those who have been quick to label Ryan Shazier as a bust, it’s probably time to put that assertion to rest. Shazier, without a doubt, played his best game of the season when the Steelers needed it the most, which is what big time players do. For the game Ryan Shazier racked up 13 tackles and two forced fumbles. He should have had a touchdown if the refs would have handled the play properly. Shazier should also get credit for the final meltdown by Vontaze Burfict, because it was his vicious and legal hit on Giovanni Bernard that sent Burfict over the edge, by all accounts. Shazier was all over the field making plays for the defense, which helped to keep the Bengals off the board. No play was bigger than his final forced fumble, which gave the ball back to Big Ben and the offense for that final game winning drive. All these performances led up to a final performance that speaks volumes about Ben Roethlisberger’s leadership, where the man who talked the talk, stepped up and walked the walk.
Earlier in the week, Ben asked Martavis Bryant to step up and toughen up, and in that final drive Big Ben led by example and came back in the game to do whatever he was capable of to help the Steelers advance to the next round of the playoffs. After the game, questions were asked “If Ben was able to throw the ball in the final drive, why couldn’t he throw it in previous drives? Because with his separated shoulder, he really couldn’t throw the ball. Ben came in anyway, and took dinking and dunking to a whole new level. He got the Steelers into position, aided by those 30 yards in penalties, where Boswell could kick the game winning field goal. His appearance had to have had a psychological affect on the Bengals defense, especially Burfict. I’m sure Ben knew it would, since Burfict thought he took him out. Look at the effect it had on every Steelers fan in the stadium watching the game.
The meltdown of Burfict and Jones only delayed the inevitable, as Ben was going to find a way to do what those two clowns did for him. None of it though would have been possible if it wasn’t for the way some of these Steelers players stepped up, in a hostile environment under inclement conditions. All of these guys, Toussaint and Todman, Boswell, Bryant and Shazier, along with Ben, deserve to share the game’s MVP award. It’s because of players like them, who have stepped up all season long, that the Steelers are on their way to Denver. Oh, and by the way, according to “Pac-man”, Antonio Brown also deserves an award as well, a Grammy Award, for his Burfict acting job. Congratulations to Pac-man and Vontaze Burfict on their shiny new award, #HomeCouchAdvantage.