Rivers was the recipient of a block from Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward as Rivers chased toward tight end Matt Spaeth on what turned out to be a 6-yard completion on the fourth play of the game. Rivers never saw Ward, who has built his reputation as one of the NFL’s top all-around receivers by delivering blocks just like this over his 11-year career.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was succinct when asked about Rivers after the game.
“Keith sustained a broken jaw, so he will probably be lost for the year,” said Lewis.
The NFL has fined Ward $15,000 this season for hits against players from Baltimore and Jacksonville, although he was never called for penalties on those specific plays. No penalty was called on Ward’s block against Rivers, but whether the league ends up fining him remains to be seen.
Brandon Johnson replaced Rivers and finished with a team-high seven tackles. Johnson felt the play exemplified a double standard in the rulebook.
“No flag came out because it wasn’t a quarterback,” said Johnson. “If he was a quarterback, then they definitely would have thrown the flag. If it was a receiver they would have definitely thrown the flag. It’s just something that comes with playing defense. If you play defense, then you’re pretty much expendable, I guess. It’s part of the game.
“It was a good block. If I was in Hines Ward’s shoes, I probably would have taken the same shot. You can’t really blame him. But like I said, if he was playing quarterback, then there would have been a flag.”
Ward had four catches for 60 yards and scored Pittsburgh’s final touchdown of the game on a 16-yard pass from backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph got his hands on the pass but only enough to deflect the ball into the air, where Ward caught the ball and ran into the end zone unimpeded. Bengals safety Dexter Jackson delivered a hit on Ward after he had crossed the goal line, a shot that earned Jackson a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
Ward was unaware of the full extent of Rivers’ injury when he spoke to the media after the game.
“I’m not doing anything illegal. It was a clean hit,” said Ward. “I didn’t stand over the guy or anything. I just celebrated the same as a guy does when he gets a sack. We’ll see. I’m not going to change my ways. If they’re going to keep fining me for that, then I’m going to get fined all year. I don’t know if I hurt him or not, but that wasn’t my intention. I saw he was hurt, said a little prayer for him, and that was it. I’ve been playing like that for 11 years. I guess I don’t know what people are griping about.”