If you are like me, you were watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defense stand on its head in the second half, creating two turnovers, and waiting for the offense to finally get the big play which would put the Bengals out of their misery.
But it never happened.
That was, until Robert Golden executed a fake punt pass down the sideline to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Considered that dagger delivered. No, it wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, or Le’Veon Bell following David DeCastro to daylight. It was a Special Teams ace to the old veteran receiver turned gunner on special teams.
No matter how it happens, at least it finally happened, albeit from an unlikely source.
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In one hurried motion, Robert Golden took the direct snap and flung the football downfield.
No one will confuse his throwing mechanics for a quarterback's, but his fake-punt toss was nearly perfect.
"That's kind of how you have to do it," said Golden, the Steelers safety who connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 44-yard completion in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 29-14 victory over the Bengals.
"We have a punt team out there, not an O-line, and I understand that," Golden said, "so you just try and get it out there."
The Steelers were protecting a 12-point lead with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left when the trick-play call came from the sideline. On fourth-and-7 at their own 40-yard line, the punt snap went to Golden, the up-back. Heyward-Bey, lined up as a gunner wide right, chased down Golden's throw along the sideline.
"You definitely want to put it out there a little bit and let him go get it," Golden said. "We've been practicing it for the last three or four years. We were able to connect on it tonight, that's all that matters."
The fourth-down conversion led to Chris Boswell's fifth field goal, a 25-yarder with 5:17 left. The pass was the second attempted by Golden in his six-year NFL career, and he is 2 for 2. He completed a 25-yarder in 2014 against the Browns.
"Robert Golden made a great throw," Heyward-Bey said. "He did all the work."
Le'Veon Bell made a move and heard a Cincinnati Bengals defender say what everyone else at Heinz Field was thinking.
Oh, my goodness.
Juice was loose, and nobody was ready for what came next, especially not Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
After making linebackers Vincent Ray, Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict miss, Bell drilled Kirkpatrick with as wicked a stiff-arm as we've seen by a Steelers running back.
“I don't know what happened or what came over me on that play,” Bell said, “but that was one of the better stiff-arms of my life.”
Bell turned a simple, second-and-2 check-down pass into a highlight-reel 42-yard gain, stiff-arming Cincinnati into submission in the second quarter of the Steelers' 29-14 AFC North win Sunday.
It was a play that had even Steelers Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis shaking his head in admiration.
“Impressive stiff-arm,” Bettis said. “My stiff-arm was never as good as his.
“That's what a special player does: You find a way to extend the play. That could have been a good gain, but he turned it into a 40-yard play because of his ability. That's the gift that he has.”
Bell was the gift that kept on giving, wearing out the Bengals by rushing for 134 yards on 35 carries and catching three passes for 58 yards.
It followed a 179-yard rushing game at Kansas City, marking the first time in his career that Bell rushed for 125 yards in back-to-back regular-season games and making him the first Steeler to do so since Willie Parker in 2007.
“This is what we've come to expect from him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He's rolling well, but when he does it, it's the product of a lot of things. The guys up front, obviously. I thought the wideout perimeter blocking was excellent. It's an 11-man job to run the football for us.”
The Bengals have lost five consecutive games to the Steelers and eight of the past nine in the series. The loss Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field wasn’t as dramatic as previous ones, certainly not in the category of the thriller in the AFC wild card round two seasons ago.
This one had the feel of submission.
Not that anyone inside the Bengals locker room would ever admit to such a thing following the 29-14 loss. But how else does one describe what Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton did late in the game when he threw the ball away on fourth down when his team still had a puncher’s chance at victory?
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell rushed for 134 yards and also had 58 receiving yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7.
Inside the Bengals locker room the sting of defeat had some soul searching.
“We just have to change the energy around here, the momentum,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “I feel like we can do it. I’m going to embrace it. That’s one thing I ain’t never really done. I always fought it. ‘We could have done this. We could have done that.’ Embrace it. I feel like it’s time we start embracing it because that will tell us we’re accepting what’s going on.
“Having so many things running through your mind, you don’t embrace the loss. I feel like sometimes we have to embrace the loss. It doesn’t matter who it is. We have to go back and fix it and move on. We got beat today. Let’s make it up.”
The Bengals offense could manage just 179 yards against the Steelers and only 19 in the second half.
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict could be looking at another fine or suspension from the league office.
Early in Sunday’s game against the Steelers, Burfict kicked at the head of Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix following a play. While Burfict, who was laying on his back, made contact by kicking outward with both feet into Burfict’s helmet, Nix wasn’t injured.
But ultimately that shouldn’t matter. At a time when the league is more sensitive than ever to blows to the head, any unnecessary and deliberate contact surely will be punished. Although the officials apparently didn’t see it, the league office will, and Burfict (who was suspended three games this year and three games last year) probably should brace from some sort of sanction, especially since the NFL applies the concept of progressive discipline to cases of this kind.
For Burfict, it’s clear that multiple suspensions haven’t gotten the message through to him. It could be time for a third suspension.