CINCINNATI -- Lost in all the he said, he said, back and forth that has come after the bizarre finish to the Cincinnati Bengals playoff loss against Pittsburgh has been this: there were two other games between the teams last season.
Bengals fans hate remembering the latter of those two. It was in a December meeting when quarterback Andy Dalton's season ended after he broke his thumb going for a post-interception tackle. The Bengals ultimately lost that game, 33-20.
But they did have one win against the Steelers last season, which included a dramatic interception by a little-known safety who now has his chance to shine on a regular basis.
Shawn Williams' jaw-dropping, diving interception in front of the Bengals' sideline in the Nov. 1 game at Heinz Field gave Cincinnati late life. Down 10-6 as the game entered its final six minutes, the Bengals needed something to wake up the team.
Williams became a human alarm clock when he jumped in front of Steelers fullback Will Johnson on a Ben Roethlisberger pass that came off a broken play. Johnson only had four targets all season, but this one led to a career-defining moment for Williams, a third-year safety who was on the field as part of a nickel package that featured three safeties.
Immediately following Williams' big interception late in last November's game, the Bengals' offense drove six plays for its only touchdown of the game. A 9-yard touchdown pass gave them a lead they held onto the remainder of the game.
The interception doesn't figure to be Williams' only career-defining moment now.
With free-agent safety Reggie Nelson officially moving on after signing this week with Oakland, Williams becomes the next man up in the Bengals' safety rotation. He'll be playing alongside George Iloka in the Bengals' base defense. Although coaches liked what Nelson provided them -- an NFL-leading eight interceptions last season, including two in the November Bengals-Steelers game -- they have been itching for a while to get Williams more opportunities.
Williams was a third-round pick, and not a first-round pick like Nelson, but he has been lauded for his ability to cover, and he has been praised for the way he steps up as a tackler in run support. He's simply been buried on the depth chart by other talented players. But no more.
In limited action last season, Williams had a career-high 28 defensive tackles, picked off two passes and broke up two more. The interceptions and deflections were the first of his career. He starred on special teams, too, where he had four stops.
As he enters the starting rotation, the former Georgia standout can only expect the career highs and career firsts to continue.
If you remember what coaches said about Williams last offseason, none of this is a surprise. All last spring and summer head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther expressed a desire to get Williams on the field more. An indication of that was visible in his 2015 snap count. After he had only 22 in 2014, Williams earned 390 last season.