The Steelers’ Burfict Ending

Landry Jones seemed to throw Pittsburgh’s season away with a soul-crushing interception, but the emotional roller coaster was only getting started. The final two minutes of the Steelers’ heart-pounding win over the Bengals has already entered Black-and-Gold lore
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The MMQB asked Steelers fans to relive the final two minutes of Pittsburgh’s shocking wild-card win. Here are some of our favorite tellings:

Watching the final two minutes of the Steelers game on Saturday felt like what I imagine intestinal surgery feels like if it were being performed without anesthetic by a caffeinated, rabid monkey with no medical training in the front car of the world's fastest roller coaster.

Every passing second was emotional whiplash—not an uncommon theme for this Steelers season. The interception thrown by Landry Jones was like stuffing all of the sadness and depression of the worst breakup of your life into 10 seconds of time and dealing with all of it at once. It was a laceration of the soul. I wanted to be ridden of my eyes and ears so my brain didn't have to process the senses of the next minute-and-a-half. A grown woman in front of me cried and someone might have vomited on the other side of the bar, but they were probably going to do that anyway.

My friends and I posted up at our regular weekend hangout, Mario’s, which happens to be the most popular bar on the South Side of Pittsburgh. I love that place. It brings me so much joy and leaves me with so many empty checking accounts week after week. I knew I wanted to be somewhere where the anxiety and thrills of a Steelers wild-card playoff game were shared by the group. I was not disappointed.

Post-interception, the once raucous and jubilant room became a morgue. But as soon as the collective let out their last living breaths, the Jeremy Hill fumble happened (!), and all of the stiffened bodies rose up like the intro to a crappy Pittsburgh zombie movie and let out an explosive cheer. Our embattled warrior Big Ben came back on the field, detached limbs and all and everyone knew it was over at that point—and with a little help, it eventually was.

The entire crowd absolutely lost it when the clock ticked zero. I hugged so many people I didn't know. I triple-hugged my ex’s cousin and her husband. My smile stretched to that of the Grinch and has been frozen in that position ever since. I should probably have a doctor look at it, and not an untrained monkey this time. The velveteen Steelers bathrobe and fuzzy black and yellow scarf I was wearing instantly became soaked with what I hope was beer from the balcony above, but you can never really tell which liquid is which under the dark neon setting of a crowded bar.

It was a memory I'll never forget. It’s the life of a Steelers fan.

— Mike Markovich, 30, Pittsburgh

* * *


As a Steelers fan, you have to internalize your woes to your non-Steelers fan friends. “But you already have six rings!” you hear them say in response to your gripes. The pain that comes with a first-round loss or another season of, We were thisclose is real. The pain that came with Big Ben's injury and then Landry Jones' perfectly thrown-into-the-arms-of-Burfict pass is REAL. And WRONG. After a season like this, you arrogantly feel deserving of grandiose concepts like favor and mercy. You think, if we can survive Bell's and Bryant's suspensions, Pouncey's injury, Bell's injury, Ben's injury, another Ben injury, Williams' injury... Triumph over adversity, you say! We deserve to win! We especially deserve to win this game against Burfict and those trash-throwing, trash-talking Bengals fans. But just like that, our season was over.

You continue watching, through your heartache, through your frustration, out of a sense of obligation. You don't want to abandon your guys like losing fans during a late-night blowout. You are there for them even though you don't want to watch the sullen faces, the gloating opposition, the We'll get 'em next year speech from Tomlin. It was OVER.

And then it wasn't.

You pray for things: a botched snap, a punched-out ball, world peace. But you know it won't happen. And then, BOOM! Sometimes it does.

Big Ben comes back and you think there's a shot. But you have to be realistic. There are too many short-yardage plays, too little time. You're at your own 24-yard line with 47 seconds to go. You have a quarterback unable to go long. You have an inexperienced kicker. It's fourth-and-3 at your own 41. You brace yourself. You think about the endless winter days ahead without your team. You think about how many days remain until the draft, training camp, preseason, opening day. You think about going to bed, about waking up, knowing it's over. Wait! Brown gets the first down and you think, Maybe, just maybe ... but we're out of time outs and there are only 22 seconds left. Then, the play happens that gives you the chills for all the wrong reasons. You watch a defenseless Brown get knocked senseless, almost lifeless. He finally gets up, finally gets helped off the field, and you think, No matter what, this isn't the ending you wanted. And when you get that game-sealing field goal served to you on an orange-and-black platter, you don't celebrate like you would any other playoff victory. This one was the very definition of bittersweet.  

— Wendy Wolf, 34, Anchorage, Alaska

* * *


My recollections and impressions, three days after another Steelers’ playoff game against an AFC North opponent… and another five years taken off my life.

Me, sitting cautiously optimistically on my couch for three quarters: Not pretty, but we seem to have this game under control (which is more than can be said for a number of players and coaches).

Me, starting to rock back and forth, Terrible Towel in mouth as the Bengals begin to score, close the gap: The Steelers are 6-0 in games I’ve attended this year—I should be there! They need me!

Me, in fetal position on floor: Ben is out, Bengals score and lead.

Me, in fetal position on a different spot on the floor: Landry Jones interception, game over… Whyyyyyyyyy?!

Me, incredulously regaining a pulse: Did the Bengals just fumble? So ... you’re telling me there’s a chance?

Me, now in angry-storming-around mode: Nooooo! Brown is out, shot to the head! But wait—a penalty! And another penalty!

Me, standing triumphantly: Field goal good… Victory! Thank you, Joey Porter!

I now eagerly await the Broncos and our chance to avenge the loss to Tim Tebow… Should I go to Denver? They probably need me there, not sure Joey will be enough this week.

— Jeremy Stackawitz, 40, Langhorne, Pa.

* * *


I hear that some Stillers fans went to bed when Burfict intercepted the pass with 1:50 remaining and Cincy up, 16-15. Huh? I have seen the Immaculate Reception, Ben's game-saving tackle in Indy to get Jerome his ring, No. 92’s 100-yard Super Bowl interception return, Santonio's finger-tip grab in the Super Bowl, Troy leaping small buildings to sack and intercept opponents in the last minutes...

When you're a Stillers fan, miracles sometimes happen.  

When Burfict intercepted the pass, it really hurt. Here's the guy who put Le'Veon out, put Ben out, and he's going to be the hero? Nobody can replace Ray Lewis as The Man I'd Most Like to Sucker Punch, but Burfict is getting close. To have him beat us? When he gleefully led his posse "in victory" into the tunnel, I wanted to jump through the TV and tackle him. I shouted delay of game and celebration penalty. We were in deep yogurt, dire straits, but there's no fat lady singer in Dannon or Mark Knopfler's band.

My wife, Anh, and I immediately jumped from the couch and twirled our respective Terrible Towels rapidly. Keep hope alive! I chanted, "DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!" and Anh shouted, "Strip 'im!  Strip 'im!"  Anh's prayer was answered when Shazier and Cockrell made the play.

Then Ben trots out? Thank you, Lord. If you'll give me just a filled gold (Pittsburghese), I will try to be a better person. For real.

Throughout the dink-and-dunk, I figured the Bungles would catch on. So I called for a bomb to Martavis—this was gonna be Martavis' game, and he has a knack for drawing long pass interference calls. Then the clutch fourth down to Antonio.

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Then Cincy did the rest. When Burfict tried to decapitate Antonio seconds after the ball sailed long, man, a no-brainer call. Ok, we love kicker Chris Boswell, he is so calm and reliable, he can hit a 50-yarder. Then Pacman does his thing? Then I saw a water bottle thrown onto the field. Would Sam Wyche come out, grab a microphone, and remind people again that they live in Cincinnati?  (To all Cincy fans, you deserve better. Get rid of the bad apples).

There are 14 seconds left. Time for another sideline pass? An end zone toss? No, too big a chance of motion, holding, a sack, the clock, KICK IT! You never know about kicks, but we believe in Chris Boswell.

It's good! Big Ben's going to the Hall of Fame, and we got ourselves a kicker for the next 12 years.

In my household, there were hugs, kisses, dancing, shouting, a quick run outside around the house waving The Towel. I'd say victory is sweeter when the enemy suffers, walks off the field head bowed in defeat, disgust, bitterness. I'd say that, but I promised the Lord I would try to be a better person. And I'm gonna try really hard, right after She helps us get our Seventh Ring.

— Bob Baginski, 62, Caswell Beach, N.C.

* * *


 As with most playoff games played between the Steelers and any of their divisional foes, this one did not come and go easily. The first 45 minutes of Saturday's wild-card game in Cincinnati went by agonizingly slow. The final 15 minutes were a whirlwind of emotions, cringe-worthy plays, and a turning off of my television.

When Landry Jones threw the interception on the 26-yard line, I clicked off the TV and made my way up to bed. Down by two, Cincinnati already in field goal territory, and no Big Ben to ride to the rescue—the game was over. Of course, after a few minutes, I had to check my phone for a game update. I saw the Steelers had the ball back, still down by only two, and only a few seconds had ticked away. I thought about going back downstairs to watch on TV, or watching the conclusion on my iPad or phone… But in my irrational, sports-driven brain, that might jinx my team. After all, something good occurred as soon as I turned off my TV. Let's not mess with mojo.

I monitored the final 103 seconds on a play-by-play gamecast, with each play taking about 60 seconds to update. The update at the 18-second mark noted the double meltdowns of the Bengals’ defense. The final two updates (field goal and final) seemingly took f-o-r-e-v-e-r (killin' me, Smalls!) to refresh, but they were well worth it. It's fitting that the Steelers’ season came down to a field goal attempt after losing several games early in the season mostly due to a poor kicking game. This time, the football gods were smiling on our kicker… and if the fortunes of the Steelers need to be changed near the end of the next game, all I need to do is turn off my TV.   

— John Cramer, Springfield, Va.

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