John Parry’s crew set the tone in the pregame warm-ups: There would not be a repeat of the Week 14 nonsense between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. That game featured several altercations that later drew league fines.
Parry’s crew put on a visible display in the pregame. The entire crew, including alternates spread out across the 50-yard line and made sure no player stepped over the line into the “no-fly zone.” Officials patrol this demilitarized zone in the regular season, but very rarely do we see an entire crew on patrol.
The first real trouble occurred late in the first quarter when Steelers Offensive Line Coach, Mike Munchak, mixed it up on the sidelines with a Bengals player. Side judge Scott Novak (in his first playoff game in his first season of eligibility) moved in to play peacemaker. When Munchak kept stirring the pot, Novak threw the flag and called Munchak for unsportsmanlike conduct.
There were several occasions in the first half when Parry’s crew called unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness on seemingly minor incidents that would normally call for a “talk-to” where officials warn players tone it down. Not so with Parry’s crew. When it doubt they threw a flag.
The teams finally lit the tinderbox at the 1:31 mark of the 3rd quarter. The Steelers Ryan Shazier went in with his helmet and laid out the Bengals Giovani Bernard. The Bengals screamed for a flag. Bernard left the field under his own power and even ran to the locker room. But, as Barnard lay on the field both teams started jawing at each other. Officiating analyst Mike Carey on CBS said Bernard was becoming a runner, wasn’t defenseless and called it a legal but “unfortunate” hit. On ESPN former official and supervisor Jim Daopoulos said it should have been a flag.
That's spearing on Pit50 and a foul should have been called….
— Jim Daopoulos (@RefereeJimD) January 10, 2016
When the Bengals had to keep their poise late in the fourth quarter, they failed miserably and it cost them the game. Back judge Perry Paganelli flagged Vontaze Burfict for a personal foul, leading with his head when he hit a defenseless receiver over the middle. The penalty moved the Steelers into make-able field goal range. During the injury timeout, Adam Jones started to mix it up with assistant coach Joey Porter and drew a flag, turning it into a chip-shot field goal, made by the Steelers. Field judge Buddy Horton threw the flag on Jones.
(Porter was on-field with the medical staff during an injury timeout, which escalated with back-and-forth chirping, leading the Bengals defense to swarm around him. Porter was no saint in all of this, but his actions were not quite enough to draw a penalty.)
Many fans might criticize Parry’s crew for throwing so many flags and injecting themselves into the game.
Too bad. The officials had a choice to make: Either try to manage the mayhem, or flag it out of existence. The crew chose the latter.
Parry and his crew sent an early message that they were not going to tolerate any silliness out of either team that night, and it was up to the coaches and players to change their behavior and stay within the boundaries drawn by the zebras.
The Bengals and Steelers hate each other. Put that hate into a playoff game, and it is a near impossible situation to control. Parry and crew did their absolute best in keeping a lid on things Saturday night, and I am proud of the work they did.