CINCINNATI — Bengals players aren’t happy with Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, who was on the field in the closing minutes of Pittsburgh’s 18-16 playoff victory and wound up in the middle of an altercation.
Players and coaches from both teams were on the field after Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the head following an incompletion, leaving the receiver dazed on the ground.
Brown suffered a concussion on the play, and Burfict was penalized for targeting a defenceless receiver. The NFL suspended Burfict on Monday for the first three games of next season.
While players and coaches milled around on the field, Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones went after Porter and drew another penalty. The two penalties moved the Steelers in range for their winning field goal.
The conduct of Steelers assistant coaches — offensive line coach Mike Munchak was penalized for grabbing the hair of safety Reggie Nelson in the first half — still bothers the Bengals. The NFL said it’s reviewing the conduct of other players and coaches during the game for possible discipline.
"I’ve got a ton of respect for those guys," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of the Steelers. "Joey Porter is not one of them. He’s not one of the guys I respect very much. He’s a guy that has always run his mouth. He’s always been disrespectful to people."
Porter was in the middle of a group of players when Jones went after him, bumping an official and drawing the flag.
After the game, Jones made a profane Instagram post ripping the officials for their handling of the situation.
Jones said on Monday that coaches shouldn’t be on the field. He also said Munchak should have been ejected from the game and fined by the league.
"Coaches are supposed to be held to a higher standard when it comes to stuff like that," Jones said. "Even with Mike Munchak grabbing Reggie’s hair. Thank God that wasn’t me. I wouldn’t have just walked away."
The teams have a history of animosity that boiled out during the Steelers’ 33-20 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 13.
There was an altercation at midfield during pregame warm-ups and numerous personal fouls during the game. Whitworth said Porter was among those on the field pregame talking trash.
Whitworth said Porter was known for trash talking when he was a player.
"To me, Joey Porter just doesn’t have a lot of class," Whitworth said. "As a coach, there’s a different standard."
Lewis declined to address Porter being on the field, but said he’s strict about making sure his assistants keep to the sideline.
"I’m clear with our coaches all the time: We’ve got to stay back," Lewis said on Monday. "I know everything’s been written about what happened with coach Munchak and Reggie and Joey but again, all of that out of the way, let’s win a football game and let’s do it the way we’re coached to do it."
After the ugly game on Dec. 13, Lewis emphasized to his players that they’ve got to keep their cool. In the week leading up to the playoff loss, Lewis had a quote from franchise founder Paul Brown displayed on the monitors in the locker room: "The key to winning is poise under stress."
That quote was still displayed on Monday, a reminder of why they let another playoff game get away.
"There’s no excuse," safety George Iloka said. "We’ve got to keep our composure as a team. But they (the Steelers) did a good job of dangling that meat in front of us."
Lewis addressed the issue with the team at their final meeting.
"We’ve hit the hammer on the nail already," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "Coach has already said that moving forward here we’re not going to do things that way. If anybody is having any arguments with referees, he’s going to get you out of there. Moving forward we’re going to make that change, and it’s a good change."
Lewis declined to single out Burfict or Jones for their game-changing penalties, other than to say that some players lost their cool at the end of the game.
When asked about those two specifically, he said, "Both players couldn’t be more heartbroken, literally to tears about what went on. And that’s the first step, to realize you know what? I’m wrong."
Jones bristled at suggestions that the penalties on him and Burfict set up the loss. There were only 18 seconds left, it was raining, Ben Roethlisberger had trouble throwing with his injured shoulder, and the Steelers had no timeouts left.
The two penalties moved the ball from the Cincinnati 47-yard line to the 17, setting up the winning kick.
"What’s going to sell papers is Adam and Vontaze Burfict cost them the game," Jones said.
Notes: Lewis said QB Andy Dalton’s broken right thumb is expected to heal fully and he should be able to do all of his usual off-season workouts. … Lewis said Nelson, who hurt his left ankle on Saturday, should be healthy enough to play in his first Pro Bowl. … CB Dre Kirkpatrick was on crutches Monday with an injured left thigh. Doctors told him it should be healed in two or three weeks.