By Julie Buehler
The Cincinnati Bengals had the lead and the keys to their first playoff win since 1990 until a running back coughed the ball up. The Steelers 2nd year linebacker Ryan Shazier levied the hit and Jeremy Hill lost the football.
Bengals fans and football fans in general shook their head in amazement at what transpired.
The Bengals had scored 16 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to finally take the lead with 1:50 remaining in the game. Their hot-headed linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, snagged an interception to get the ball back and seal the deal.
But extra effort from Shazier, who’s team had lost it’s starting quarterback and top receiver, proved to be the one thing the talented Bengals team didn’t see coming.
Steelers 18, Bengals 16.
The Minnesota Vikings built a 9-0 lead over the visiting Seattle Seahawks in sub-zero temperatures with sure tackling and a quick-strike offense.
It seemed the Seahawks offense couldn’t muster it’s big-play ability against the Vikings big-hitting defense.
And then Russell Wilson fumbled the snap.
The ball bounced 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage with defenders pursuing Wilson, most quarterbacks would have fallen on the ball and taken the loss.
But Wilson, picked up the ball, evaded defenders and threw a gem to Ricardo Lockett who ran the ball around within the 5-yard line.
Sure Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal, but more importantly, the Seahawks capitalized on their limited opportunities.
Seahawks 10, Vikings 9
The Chiefs blew out the Texans by 30 points and the Packers notched 35 against the Redskins. And while all 4 road teams won their games in the wildcard round of NFL playoffs, the real winners were good coaching staffs.
Football is a fascinating chess match that requires leadership at every level. While the head coach receives most of the blame and little praise, his ability to delegate leadership responsibility to team members, other coaches, or contributors can be the difference between a successful playoff game and a woefully disappointing one.
Make no mistake, the Bengals are a more talented team. Beyond the head-to-head matchup at the quarterback position, there’s a case to be made that the Bengals were better at nearly every position group. But the Steelers’ ability to withstand their more talented opposition with and have one player exert that extra effort made a 60-minute contest condense into a 2-minute test battle of wills.
The Bengals weren’t prepared for that, the Steelers were.
The Vikings had their game locked up. But credit the Seahawks ability to see the homerun through the strikeout and pursue victory rather than accept defeat.
The teams that hoist the Lombardi at the end of the season are not usually the most talented, the “hardest working” or the “hardest hitting” as we hear so often. They’re actually the team that dealt most effectively with bad news.
The team who’s linebacker makes an extra sweep at a ball, just in case the running back isn’t holding on tight enough or the team who’s quarterback refusing to drop on the ball for a loss, finds a shifty receiver for a huge gain. Those are the teams that play through their faults, manage their mistakes and keep going that end up successful.
Julie Buehler hosted the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day for 3 years, but now she can be exclusively seen on KMIR sharing the coolest stories in sports and heard on 103.9 FM ESPN from 6-7 pm nightly. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in to KMIR’s nightly news or KMIR.com for her sports reports.