Steelers Special Teams And Unsung Free Agents Bring Playoffs Back To Pittsburgh


Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake (41) recovers a fumble against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed the AFC North crown and third seed in the AFC playoffs thanks to a solid team effort.

In a game where they lost their MVP Le’Veon Bell to a gruesome shot to the knee and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suffering from a stomach virus, Antonio Brown and the special teams unit, along with back-up cornerbacks Antwon Blake and Brice McCain, boosted them back into the post-season.

For once, it was the Steelers who got the big plays from their receivers while not allowing the Cincinnati Bengals a pass of over 19 yards. QB Andy Dalton completed 27 passes but the pressure from Cam Heyward and company forced Dalton to earn 244 passing yards in the short-ball game.

Not exactly a Dalton specialty. The results were eight catches for 82 yards by star receiver A.J. Green and two interceptions off overthrows by Dalton.

More from Pittsburgh Steelers

His first interception came in the Bengals second possession of the game, and coincidentally Dalton’s second deep ball attempt. Dalton threw to the end zone where only McCain was available to catch it. As Dalton dropped back to throw he was nearly sacked by Lawrence Timmons who knifed behind McCullers to lay a hit on the QB.

The Steelers offense unfortauntely didn’t do much with the opportunity were further punished for wasting the chance due to a poor punt by Brad Wing. The 35-yarder set up the Bengals first touchdown of the game.

When Dalton (again) overthrew Green in the second quarter, the tipped ball landed into the arm of McCain. This time the Steelers offense took two plays to score when Martavis Bryant sprinted through a hole created by the blocks of Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton for a 21-yard TD.


As we have seen a lot in the race to the playoffs, special teams played an impactful role. Punter Wing had an up and down game. He started the game with an excellent 42-yard punt that pinned the Bengals inside their 10-yard line.

The Bengals could only move the ball seven yards and Kevin Huber punted it 54 yards to his nemesis, Antonio Brown. Brown took the ball, reversed field and raced 71 yards for his third punt return TD. Interestingly, all three of his punt returns for touchdowns have been against the Bengals.

Outside of Wing’s best imitation of the ghosts of Steelers (not-so) special teams past (35-yard punt), the Steelers did a good job limiting the effectiveness of the NFL’s fourth-best return team (punt and kick returns).

Even Wing’s flappy-armed toss on the fake punt didn’t come back to haunt the Steelers—thanks to a brilliant rip and strip of Green by Blake four plays later. Blake recovered the ball.

Ben then found Brown breaking free of Bengals corner Dre Kirkpatrick for a game-sealing 63-yard touchdown. Bengals safety George Iloka should have tackled Brown had it not been for a trip and slip on the Heinz Field grass.

Shaun Suisham was a perfect 2 for 2 thanks to a lucky bounce off the goal posts. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent wasn’t quite as fortunate when his 50-yard attempt was carried away by the winds. It would have tied the game 20-20 as they headed into the fourth quarter.

Not a perfect day by the secondary or special teams, yet the win brings the playoffs back home this Saturday. Perhaps Heinz Field “luck” can produce a first-round win.

More from City of Champions