Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season has ended, and coaching changes have kicked off the unofficial start to the offseason, we're counting down the 10 plays that helped shape the Bengals' 11-5, AFC North championship season.
Big plays, particularly those from Cincinnati's defense, and explosive ones from the likes of Giovani Bernard, were critical to the way 2013 played out.
As is the case with most top 10 lists, determining these plays was completely subjective. They could be placed in virtually any slot among these 10, or not among them at all. Some certainly won't make the cut that many believe should. It's the nature of lists. Somewhere a cut off has to come. Anyway, let's get back to it, with No. 5:
BERNARD'S TACKLE-BREAKING RUN AND FLIP
When: Oct. 31, 2013
Where: Sun Life Stadium, where the Bengals lost to the Miami Dolphins in overtime, 22-20.
What happened: Is it possible to use words other than "oh" and "ah" to describe the game-tying 35-yard touchdown run Bernard had in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' midseason loss at Miami?
Since yours truly gets paid to use words other than those three to detail the success or failure of various plays and play calls, I guess we'll give it a try. In all seriousness, the run was a thing of true athletic beauty. Part Deion Sanders, part Barry Sanders, part Peter Warrick, part Warrick Dunn, it was the kind of direction-changing, tackle-breaking, quickly developing run that had flashes of the electrifying style those four former playmakers once showcased regularly.
The play came near the start of the fourth quarter and with the Bengals down 17-10 in a Thursday night road game they had pegged as a must-win contest since the day the schedule was released. A play before, tight end Jermaine Gresham put the Bengals into Dolphins territory when he hauled in a 16-yard first-down pass that had a couple of chances to get picked off.
Bernard's run began with a pitch right. As he approached the line of scrimmage on the outside edge, two Dolphins broke through; one got by tight end Tyler Eifert who missed a block after lining up in the backfield. With those defenders in his face, Bernard somehow broke one tackle, avoided another and stepped over a desperate attempt to trip him up. In the same motion, Bernard spun, reversing field and sprinted for the opposite sideline. He side-stepped one more tackler and got a timely block by left guard Clint Boling to get past another. From there, he turned up the sideline and followed, among others, quarterback Andy Dalton, who was one of three Bengals who shielded another two Dolphins from grabbing the shifty Bernard.
After a cut-back got him racing toward the middle of the field again, Bernard dodged two more tackles before stumbling the final 7 yards to the end zone. As he sensed the goal line was close, he reached up with the football and dove into a front flip to cap the touchdown. Following the pending extra point, the game was tied and the Bengals were closing in on a comeback. It was arguably the flashiest of a series of head-turning plays Bernard made throughout the season.
How the Bengals' season was impacted: This play itself didn't impact the Bengals' season going forward, but it did add to Bernard's lore. He had already made Bengals fans swoon when in Week 2 he caught a short screen pass from Dalton and sprinted quickly by the Steelers' secondary for a key 27-yard touchdown reception. His bandwagon swelled even more a week later when on a short touchdown run he leaped and contorted his body near a pylon for one of the more courageous Bengals scores of the season. He landed on his head while extending the ball across the goal line, after all.
As great as those plays were, his 35-yard run at Miami might have been his best highlight of the season. If only it had been a more pivotal play in a win, it might have landed even higher on this countdown. After the play, Bernard was slowed a bit by a rib injury that he picked up on his very next carry. It didn't bother him much the next week at Baltimore, though. He had similar numbers against the Ravens in what ended up being a second straight loss. Most of Bernard's best performances, statistically speaking, came in the second half of the season. Against Indianapolis in Week 14, he had a career-high 148 total yards.