CINCINNATI -- In the playoffs, one play can be the difference between the chance at a championship and an offseason filled with unhappiness.
Just ask last season's Seattle Seahawks.
The Cincinnati Bengals and their backup quarterback were trying hard to not learn that lesson early in Saturday night's wild-card playoff game against the division-rival Steelers. After two quarters, though, they found out just how much an impact one miscue could have. In defensive struggles like the one the Bengals and Steelers were part of, it's paramount a team avoids them.
It was with about five minutes left in the second quarter when, in a heavy, steady rain, AJ McCarron threw an interception that was picked off by Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake. At the end of Pittsburgh's ensuing possession, the Steelers scored on a 39-yard Chris Boswell field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ultimately went up 6-0 at halftime, the beneficiary of a dropped interception chance by Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey just one play before Boswell's 30-yard boot.
Immediately after McCarron threw the interception, he looked down at his throwing hand as if he wondered whether it contributed to the ball slipping out as he delivered. It was clear that as he cocked his arm back to throw deep open receiver Marvin Jones that he believed he had enough juice in his arm to go long. When the ball fell into Blake's hands, however, it was some 10 yards short of its intended destination.
As head coach Marvin Lewis said earlier in the week, McCarron and his offensive teammates had to consider turnovers a no-no Saturday.
"It starts with anybody who possesses the football," Lewis said. "[Offensive coordinator] Hue [Jackson] and the offensive coaches have done an outstanding job in that from the start; impressing upon the group that was going to be a key to becoming a champion. Then it goes to the quarterback, who possesses the football nearly every snap."
Earlier in the first half, McCarron also had a two-play stretch during which he fumbled a snap from center Russell Bodine, then lost the handle on a ball when he was hit for an attempted sack. The Bengals recovered both fumbles, however,
The second-quarter interception was McCarron's first in the four games he has started in relief of injured starter Andy Dalton. He did have two others in the Dec. 13 loss to the Steelers when he came off the bench for Dalton.
The sloppy conditions Saturday ultimately prompted McCarron to put a glove on his right hand in an effort to prevent more poor passing because of the inclement weather. It marked the first time in his career that McCarron has worn a glove on his throwing hand. It seemed to cause problems, too, as he was too high on a subsequent pass to A.J. Green, and too short on another that was nearly picked off by the Steelers.
Through the first half, the Bengals' offense amassed just 56 yards. During one 12-play stretch in the second quarter, they collected 10 yards, punted three times and threw the interception.