AFC North: Bill Walsh

John TaylorUSA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Cincinnati Bengals history. The others are Corey Dillon's 41-yard touchdown run that broke the single-game rushing record and the San Francisco 49ers John Taylor's game-winning touchdown catch to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. This entry is a play from the same game; vote below for your favorite.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989. Site: Joe Robbie Stadium

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Description: In order to be eligible for consideration on the Bengals' top plays list, a play did not have to be one that caused Who Dey Nation to erupt in raucous cheer. It could have been the direct source of heartache, too.

Exactly 15 minutes, 16 seconds after Stanford Jennings pushed the Bengals out front by seven in Super Bowl XXIII with a kick return touchdown, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana punctuated a fourth-quarter comeback drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to John Taylor. It was a catch that effectively ended the game and gave the 49ers their third Lombardi Trophy under former Bengals assistant, coach Bill Walsh.

Taylor's catch off a slant into the end zone also ended an 11-play drive that saw Montana complete eight of the nine passes he attempted. Aside from Taylor's game-winning grab, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice had three key receptions on the drive, including a 27-yard haul that put the 49ers in the red zone two plays ahead of Taylor's catch. The drive covered 92 yards and lasted barely two minutes.

Had Cincinnati's defense been able to stand as tall on that drive as it had earlier in the game, the Bengals likely would have kept the 49ers out of the end zone and held on just enough to win. Before that series, the Bengals had allowed 358 yards and just one touchdown. They also had allowed the 49ers to convert only two third downs on 10 tries. During the drive, San Francisco saw only one third down. It converted when Roger Craig plowed ahead for a 4-yard run after needing only 2 yards.

As much as Taylor's catch will forever be remembered as the iconic play that sealed the 49ers victory, it's important to note that the 10 plays before helped set it up.

Stanford JenningsGin Ellis/Getty Images
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Bengals history. The others are Corey Dillon's 41-yard touchdown run that broke the single-game rushing record and John Taylor's game-winning touchdown catch that allowed the San Francisco 49ers to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. This entry is a play from the same game; vote below for your favorite.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989 Site: Joe Robbie Stadium

Description: For 43 minutes, place kicking dominated Super Bowl XXIII. In the 44th minute, a kickoff return changed all that, giving the game an electrifying touchdown that put the Bengals in the lead with a quarter left in the defensive slugfest.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bengals' history?

  •  
    20%
  •  
    46%
  •  
    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 30,879)

Stanford Jennings, a 26-year-old returner/running back at the apex of his NFL career, scored the first touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter when he sprinted 93 yards on a kickoff return that pushed the Bengals to a 13-6 lead. Finally, after trading field goals with the 49ers, the Bengals had the game's momentum. As the Bengals prepared for the final quarter, the odds of them winning the franchise's first Super Bowl started looking quite favorable.

As we whittled down -- with your help -- the many plays that have taken place in Bengals history, it seemed clear that at least one play from one of Cincinnati's two Super Bowl appearances needed to make the list. Unfortunately for the Bengals, compared to other older and more successful teams, their 46-year history has a somewhat limited pool of cheer-worthy moments if we're discussing plays that could compete with the NFL's all-time best. Let's make it clear, though: That doesn't mean the team hasn't had any. From the "Freezer Bowl" to the franchise's founding to Chad Ochocinco's "Riverdance" to Jerome Simpson's flip and Giovani Bernard's zig-zag run at Miami last season, there have been some awe-inspiring moments.

None of those, however, made it in our top three.

Jennings' play deserves consideration as the most memorable play in Bengals history because, at the time, it was a pivotal play in one of the two biggest games the team has ever played. When Jennings was tripped up as he crossed the goal line, the Bengals sideline erupted. The entire group knew the Bengals were now in control of the game and stood a good chance to emerge from South Florida having denied one of its former sons his third Lombardi Trophy. 49ers coach Bill Walsh served as an assistant in Cincinnati under the late Paul Brown during the franchise's early years.

While then-Bengals coach Sam Wyche tried to keep his sideline calm, it was noted during the game's broadcast that he and Jennings were graduates of the same small South Carolina college, Furman. The two Paladins seemed poised to share a post-graduate honor so few who've played and coached in the NFL ever get to realize.

But two Joe Montana touchdown passes later, the Bengals lost the lead and, eventually, the game. They haven't returned to the Super Bowl since.
PITTSBURGH – Adroit drafting and the nurturing of supreme talent gave rise to the defense that had the nickname “Steel Curtain” bestowed on it as the Pittsburgh Steelers were claiming ownership of the 1970s.

But Chuck Noll’s acumen as a coach also shaped the defense that tormented opposing offenses and led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in a span of six seasons.

“We had some of the most amazingly complicated defenses I have ever seen,” said linebacker Andy Russell, who made seven Pro Bowls during a 12-year career and played on the Steelers’ first two Super Bowl-winning teams. “I remember telling [former San Francisco 49ers coach] Bill Walsh about some of the things we did and he couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘You couldn’t possibly do that.’ Well, we did.”

The play the Steelers called in the huddle, Russell said, was almost irrelevant, because the linebackers and defensive backs would switch to a different defense based on the offense’s formation or what it did before the snap.

What made the Steelers unique is that the back seven players all had to recognize the same thing and switch to the same defense without anyone calling it out.

The discipline Noll instilled in his players and his fixation on details made it work most of the time.

“We might change a defense three or four times before the ball was snapped,” Russell said. “All seven guys had to know what it was because you couldn’t yell it out. Not that we never made mistakes. Sometimes we did. It didn’t always work, but it was a pretty impressive defensive setup.”

Russell will be among the many Steelers who will pay tribute to Noll, who passed away Friday night at the age of 82, by remembering his greatness.

And by telling stories like the one Russell recounted from Noll’s first training camp with the Steelers in 1969.

The Steelers had gone 18-49-3 in the five seasons before Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh, and Russell said the players couldn’t figure out why winning had proved to be so elusive for them.

“So Coach Noll’s first meeting, I’ll never forget the speech he gave,” said Russell, who became a highly successful businessman after retiring from football in 1976. “He gets up and says, ‘I’ve been watching the game film since I took the job, and I can tell you guys why you’ve been losing.’ You could have heard a pin drop in that room. He says, ‘The reason you have been losing is you’re not any good.’”

Russell then laughed.

“Those aren’t the words he used,” Russell said, “but that’s what he meant, and he said, ‘I’m going to get rid of most of you.’ Five of us made it from that room to the Super Bowl in ’74.”

Seven-step drop: Ed Reed's on fire

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 16 in the AFC North:
    [+] EnlargeEd Reed
    AP Photo/Mark DuncanRavens cornerback Ed Reed intercepts a pass intended for Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the second quarter Sunday.

  • Both literally and figuratively, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed was on fire in their 20-10 victory against the Cleveland Browns. On the sidelines, Reed's jacket caught fire, which you can see here. But on the field, the future Hall of Famer took advantage of Cleveland rookie quarterback Colt McCoy's inexperience. Reed recorded two interceptions against McCoy, who threw three picks total. McCoy said Reed was reading his eyes the entire game to stay one step ahead. "Ed Reed is one of the greatest football players, and he has been over the last 10 years, and we knew that going in," McCoy said. "I told you guys I have to be aware of him. I have to know where he is at all times."
  • When Reed gets hot, his interceptions can come in bunches. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Sunday marked Reed's 10th career multi-interception game. Reed is the NFL's active leader in that category, two games ahead of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel.
  • Although the Browns played sloppily and committed four turnovers, there was nothing wrong with their effort this week. The Browns continued their season-long trend of getting up for good teams and admitted they were inspired by the trash-talking during the week by Baltimore's Ray Lewis. The Ravens' linebacker said Cleveland tailback Peyton Hillis' 144-yard performance in the first game wouldn't happen again. That prompted Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers to get into a pregame shouting match with Lewis, and Browns guard Eric Steinbach to mimic Lewis' dance during introductions. "I think everybody who reads [the comments] realizes that it was disrespectful," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said after the game. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out if it was a lack of respect." In the end, Lewis got the last laugh. Hillis rushed for just 35 yards and was banged up after suffering a rib injury.
  • Browns president Mike Holmgren's name is starting to come up as more coaching jobs are vacated around the NFL. But in our opinion, the only opening that could possibly test his commitment to Cleveland would be the San Francisco 49ers. As ESPN.com's NFC West blogger Mike Sando wisely pointed out, Holmgren has very strong ties to the Bay Area and learned his craft under Bill Walsh in San Francisco. That might make Holmgren at least give it a thought. But Holmgren's absolute control in Cleveland will be hard to match, and there is no guarantee he could get that in San Francisco or any other job opening. Plus, Holmgren seems genuinely dedicated to turning the Browns around. And if he wants to return to the sidelines in 2011 -- which is certainly a possibility -- Holmgren can do it in Cleveland with a roster he's helped build for the past year.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are proving to be good finds. Both are playing well late in the season. Sanders, a third-round pick, has taken over as Pittsburgh's third receiver and has 11 receptions for 132 yards in his past two games. Brown, a sixth-round pick, also has four catches the past two weeks and is making plays on special teams. In addition to receiver Mike Wallace, who was a third-round pick in 2009, Pittsburgh is having tremendous success finding wide receivers in the middle rounds.
  • Speaking of receivers, could Jerome Simpson's sudden development signal the end for Chad Ochocinco with the Cincinnati Bengals? Simpson exploded in Sunday's win against the San Diego Chargers with six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Considering it will cost $6 million to keep Ochocinco in 2011, don't dismiss the possibility of the Bengals taking a $3.5 million buyout. Cincinnati is expected to rebuild and go with younger players next season. The team reportedly has no plans to bring back veteran Terrell Owens, and Ochocinco will turn 33 in a couple weeks and is coming off his second bad season in three years. The Bengals went through a 10-game losing streak with Owens and Ochocinco as starters, yet are winning down the stretch with Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley. That could be a sign the Bengals' offense can move on without the six-time Pro Bowler.
  • Finally, we want to give a special "Seven-step drop" birthday shout-out to Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who turns 31 today, and Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain, who is 26. Both players should be happy on their birthdays after picking up victories Sunday. Palmer played one of his best games of the season (269 yards and four touchdowns) against the Chargers. McClain rushed for 19 yards and caught one pass in the win against Cleveland.

Morning take: Gilyard likes Bengals

February, 9, 2010
2/09/10
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: The Bengals need a receiver but Gilyard would be too high to take with the No. 21 overall pick. Unless he falls late in the second or third round, this probably won't be a match.
Morning take: Someone will take a chance on Stallworth, but I'm not sure the Ravens are the right fit. Baltimore needs receivers who are guaranteed to make an immediate impact next season.
Morning take: It doesn't get much better than learning offense under Bill Walsh. Holmgren now brings his variety of experiences and knowledge to Cleveland.
Morning take: This shows confidence that 2010 could be a bounce-back year for Pittsburgh. Let's see what the Steelers do with the draft and free agency.

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