The Cincinnati Bengals' collapse Monday night took a collective effort, from the offense going silent in the second half, to the defense giving up 193 net yards and three straight scoring drives in the fourth quarter to fall 23-20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers after building a 17-3 halftime lead.
The most bizarre bungle of the game came on the Steelers first drive of the second half. On 2nd-and-10 from the 35-yard-line, Ben Roethlisberger dropped the ball off to Le'Veon Bell in the flat. It was a simple checkdown to the wide open running back.
Then the Bengals had a collective brain fart.
Cincinnati linebacker Jordan Evans chased Bell in the flat, got beat to the boundary by the speedy runner and attempted to one-handed shove Bell out of bounds. As the feeble attempt happened, corner William Jackson stepped up to make a tackle but inexplicably pivoted out of the way opening the sideline for a stumbling Bell, who managed to keep his balance and prance into the end zone. (Corner Josh Shaw also ran over and might have had a chance to make a play had he not pulled up, assuming his teammates already on the scene had taken care of it.)
After the game, Jackson explained the mind-bending decision that allowed Bell to stay in bounds.
"I thought he was out, and I didn't want to late-hit him," Jackson said. "He's a veteran guy. He turned it up, caught me slipping and scored a touchdown."
Given the officiating crew's propensity for flags last night, Jackson's desire not to pick up a late-hit flag is somewhat understandable -- 20 accepted penalties on the night; some justified, other debatable. However, Jackson moving out of the way instead of standing his ground inbounds was one of the weirdest plays you'll see.
Jackson said he was shocked Bell could keep his balance down the sideline.
"I was definitely surprised," he said. "I just knew he was out of bounds, but obviously, he wasn't. It is what it is."
The botched tackle from Evans and Williams turned the tide early in the second half, cutting the Bengals lead to seven. It wasn't the main reason Cincy lost, but it certainly hurt as Marvin Lewis' team saw its chance to squeak into the playoffs all but vanish.