There was about a ten minute span of real time in Saturday's AFC Wild Card game between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh that represented everything it means to be a Bengals fan. With 1:56 left in the fourth quarter, AJ McCarron found AJ Green on a corner route that resulted in both of their first playoff touchdowns. The score put the Bengals up 16-15 and they could almost touch the light at the end of the dreaded playoff tunnel. They went for two but failed and then kicked off to the Steelers.
With Ben Roethlisberger out of the game, backup Landry Jones entered the game only to be intercepted by Vontaze Burfict on first down. With the ball, the lead and two timeouts to try to end the game.
As a fan, it was truly overwhelming. The possibility of a 26 year streak being ended was right within our grasp and it looked as if the players had stepped up to the occasion and showed their valor. The cloak of pessimism that covers the city of Cincinnati was temporarily lifted by the spirit and cheer of Bengals fans everywhere. Although I'm physically in Los Angeles, my Facebook timeline is very much still Cincinnati and my girlfriend was even on Facetime with her best friend who lives back in Cincy. We all went crazy. I accidentally stepped on the Maltese's tail while celebrating. Sorry Wembley.
But I was experiencing history. The team that I cheer the hardest for was about to do something it hadn't done in my lifetime and with 96 seconds, two touchdowns and Jeremy Hill running angry, there was reason for Bengals fans to have that optimism.
Then just as quickly as the Bengals took the ball away, they gave it back because Jeremy Hill fumbled on the next play which was recovered by the Steelers. With 1:23 left in the game, Roethlisberger trotted back into the game in true Willis Reed style and I knew we were really about to be tested. Our schemes were about to be tested. Our fundamentals were about to be tested. Our resolve was about to be tested.
The defense gave up eight to Martavis Bryant on first down and after an incompletion to Antonio Brown on second, they let Toussaint get outside for seven yards where he stopped the clock and moved the chains.
Toussaint then burst off another ten yards and the Steelers stopped the clock with their first timeout. There was :41 left on the clock and the Steelers had the ball on their own 34.
Three plays, two timeouts and thirteen game-seconds later, it was 4th and 3 on the Steelers' 41. Who else, but Antonio Brown caught the ball for 12 yards and extended the drive crossing the Steelers into Bengals territory. The Steelers spent their last timeout to stop the clock at :22.
Still about 15 yards from Boswell's field goal range, the Bengals could essentially seal the game with a stop. Bend but don't break.
Everything fell apart on the next play. Roethlisberger threw incomplete deep to Antonio Brown but Burfict was flagged with, and ultimately suspended for, an aggregious hit to the head that gave the Steelers 15 yards and a first down. The Steelers were at the edge of their field goal range.
Amidst a scrum resulting from the Burfict hit, Adam Jones got into an altercation with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter on the field and Jones was also flagged for a personal foul.
When the Steelers finally lined up, they were on the 17 yard line with :18 seconds left. Boswell made the chip shot field goal and the Steelers won the game by two.
I could psychoanalyze the whole situation and explain my feelings throughout the waning moments of this game but, it doesn't take a rocket scientiest, the last two minutes of that game epitomizes everything it means to be a Bengals fan: cheer the good moments when you have them because they'll find a way to lose it in the end.
Same old Bengals.