It was a single play that resulted in two personal foul penalties to give up the Wild Card playoff game between AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. A hit on Antonio Brown that I've called the dirtiest hit I've ever seen and a moronic retaliation by a Bengals player to an opposing coach being on the field. Within the span of a minute, it might have been the collapse of a franchise that was just beginning to show some promise again.
The Steelers would have a chip-shot kick to give themselves the victory, pushing the Bengals into an 0-7 playoff record under head coach Marvin Lewis. Immediately following the game, football fans speculated that it might have been his last game in Cincinnati.
You can't really blame that thought process. We've seen winning coaches get fired for not being able to take the next step, and arguably the Bengals were the more talented team on the field for a majority of the season, even if that didn't always result in wins. His regular season record of 112-92-2 puts him at .541 for his tenure, something that ranks more along the lines of coaches on the hot seat, rather than the ones that will hold their jobs until they want to step down. Having been the head coach of the franchise for 12 years, I doubt many wouldn't understand Mike Brown, the owner, looking to replace a coach that has had more time than any other coach in the league outside of Bill Bilicheck and the Patriots to give the team a trophy. It doesn't necessarily mean that Lewis is a bad coach, but he clearly isn't a good one either.
Having lost control of his players on Saturday in arguably the most important game of his head coaching career, it became obvious that Lewis just doesn't have a hold on the team. Sure he's the guy in charge and I'm sure most of the time the players respect him and listen, but even when Lewis tried to get linebacker Vontaze Burfict to settle down on Saturday to just win the game, he went out there and continued to start problems at every turn. Add that to his regular season record, and his postseason record and there is no stronger case in the league to move on from a head coach.
Now with Burfict suspended for three games in the 2016 season and a decent list of free agents about to hit the market, it might just be the time when things collapse for this franchise. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is one of the hottest head coach candidates and is already receiving interest around the league for interviews. Without Jackson, a new coach will want to do things his way almost certainly. Despite having Andy Dalton at quarterback, it will mean a new offensive and defensive philosophy, potentially setting the franchise back a year or two before they settle down into the new playbooks and schemes. In that time, players come and go, they retire and they get drafted.
By that time, you might be missing the cornerstones of your offensive line and secondary. Other players currently in their primes will be heading into the twilight years and who knows how good they will be any longer, if they are even on the team anymore. All it takes is two years to figure things out and you could have a roster that is only average at best.
Face it, we've seen worse happen in the past and the Bengals are not magically immune to the parity of NFL life. One single play could have been the undoing of an entire franchise.