In each game last weekend, one guy on each of the teams that didn't have to clean out their lockers this week not only had a good game, but they also had a specific play or plays that made a huge impact on the outcome of game, plays that likely won't even show their name on most standard stat sheets. These guys became my "Unsung Heroes" of the Wild Card Weekend. Unsung in this instance doesn't necessarily mean they aren't already big name guys or that they don't normally get credit for what they do.
It points to the fact that they all had big games this weekend, but I haven't seen a lot of people talking about what they did to help their team win the game because other things or other players overshadowed their performance. I wondered if perhaps for a lot of football fans, even in 2016, in their minds if it didn't show up on the stat sheet, then it didn't happen. That's not to say any of these guys had pitiful stats, it's just that to truly understand their impact you need to look deeper than that.
Chiefs NT Dontari Poe was up first. Now, it's Cam Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Since the Steelers/Bengals game ended the way it did on Saturday, we have all these think pieces about how one guy is going to supposedly destroy the game (I was watching his film, and it occurred to me that if Vontaze Burfict had played when I played, he likely would be revered for the way he gets after it).
Times have changed and so have the rules. He has to change his game too and cut the bullshit, but I can't just erase the memories of my old Bucs teammate John Lynch damn near decapitating anyone who was fool enough to come across the middle with nothing but roars of applause every Sunday. That's the same Lynch who when, not if, he gets inducted to the Hall Of Fame will do so mostly on the strength of those big hits and not his relatively low number of interceptions for a Hall of Fame safety. It really wasn't that long ago, guys. Hell, I'm not that old. This isn't to pick on Lynch either because he was a great player and teammate. Everybody remembers his big hits, so hopefully they can understand where I'm coming from.
Again, for the reading challenged, this isn't a defense of Burfict, it's context for what we are talking about here. Everyone has to get his shit together to play in this "new" NFL, but if he is a "thug" for that dumbass illegal hit on Brown, well then there were a hell of a lot of "thugs" who were openly admired for doing the same things barely a decade ago. You could also say the same about linebackers who walked that fine line between playing hard and playing dirty back in the day. It used to be kind of a badge of honor for a linebacker to be called a little dirty. I'm just saying.
What got drowned out in all the din is how well Cam Heyward played in that game.
Heyward had a sack and caused fumble on the same play (Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron eventually recovered the ball). He also had four more pressures, a tipped pass, one other hit on McCarron and one other solo tackle. Again, not too shabby for a 3-4, five-technique end.
Heyward had one particularly outstanding play in the second quarter, the magnitude of which couldn't possibly be captured by a stat sheet.
With 5:17 left in the first half the Bengals were facing a second-and-13 from their own 44-yard line. At that point neither team had been able to put any points on the board. What the Bengals needed was a sustained drive that ended in a score of some kind. Those plans took a significant hit after Steelers rookie outside linebacker Bud Dupree took down Bengals running back Jeremy Hill for a loss of 3 on the first play of the series. The Bengals were behind the sticks on second down and needed to at least get some positive yards so they could get to a better third-down situation.
They had a good chance to do just that on a second-and-13 play after Hill checked through the line and juked Ryan Shazier out of his drawls on a choice route. The Steelers were playing man, so there wasn't anybody to save Shazier's ass after his knees buckled when Hill changed direction.
It should've been a relatively easy throw for McCarron, even though he seems to think the Bengals were punished with a harder rain when they had the ball on offense. That play could've easily put the Bengals across the 50-yard line and not too far out of field goal range. Another couple of first downs and putting points on the board first, might that have turned tide in the Bengals' favor for the rest of the game?
None of that actually happened, however, because Cam Heyward happened instead.
On that play Heyward was actually lined up like a 4-3 nose tackle between Bengals left guard Clint Boling and center Russell Bodine. Heyward got into Bodine hard on the snap and bull rushed him right back into McCarron's lap. At the last minute, Heyward crossed over to the opposite side of Bodine and got a hit on McCarron just as he tried to get the ball to Hill. The impact caused the ball to flutter harmlessly to the turf well short of its intended target.
On the next play, McCarron, trying to take a shot on third-and-13, was picked off by Antwon Blake, who returned it 35 yards to the Cincy 41-yard line. The Steelers offense made one first down and kicked a field goal, which was optimistically a six-point swing in the game.
How much did the Bengals lose by again?
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