- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
When we reach the No. 1 play, we'll add in links to each play on the countdown.
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.
So far, the key plays have ranged the gamut. From James Harrison's interception against the Browns, to A.J. Green's Hail Mary haul in Baltimore, to Reggie Nelson's big blitz that set up Mike Nugent's game-winning field goal at Detroit, the plays have covered significant moments in the season.
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. 3:
PACMAN'S PICK IN THE MONSOON
When: Oct. 6, 2013
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals beat the New England Patriots, 13-6.
What happened: In the days leading up to the Bengals' and Patriots' Week 5 meeting, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis kept close tabs on the weather forecast. Most weathermen believed steady to heavy rains would pelt the Ohio Valley Region throughout the day of the game, causing reporters to question what the teams' game plans would end up being. If it rained as much as the weather reports were indicating, passing would be difficult. Running would be about the only thing both offenses could do.
As concerning as the forecast may have been for those preparing to cover the game, it wasn't a problem for Lewis, who foresaw something different. During pregame warmups, he told his players not to worry about the overcast skies that hovered above the stadium all that morning. It'll be dry most of the day, he said. But don't be caught off guard near the end of the fourth quarter when the skies would open, he also warned. The rains would come, but it wouldn't be until very late in the game, the coach-turned-meteorologist said.
He was right. After a slow and steady rainfall began in the fourth quarter, conditions got dramatically worse on the Bengals' second-to-last drive of the game. Up 13-6 and approaching the two-minute warning, their only option was to run the ball. So they did. Three times Cincinnati tried to pick up yards on the ground, but ultimately, that wasn't enough to advance that drive. At the end of a three-and-out and fresh out of the two-minute break, they punted. Kevin Huber's 57-yard boot somehow navigated the raindrops that started coming harder and more frequent. The punt put Tom Brady and the rest of his offense 65 yards away from a game-tying touchdown.
With time running out, the only way the Patriots could march downfield so quickly was to pass. But with the rain coming down in sudden monsoon-like sheets, it was difficult for his receivers to see, tough for Brady to get a good grip on the football, and even more challenging for them to keep a grip when the ball hit their hands. Six times on that final drive Brady passed and only once was the ball caught. Twice it was dropped. Twice more the ball and receiver went different directions. Once, it was intercepted.
As the game clock ticked all the way down to 16 seconds, it was Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones who leaped high deep in Bengals territory on a long first-down heave, tipping the ball into the air as he fell to the turf. While on the ground, Jones caught his deflection, signaling an interception and icing a big early-season win.
What they said about it: Jones, on the deluge: "Man, I was happy about that. I was like, ‘When is it coming?’ It came right on time.’"
Brady, on his snapped touchdown pass streak: "I'm bummed that we lost. I think that's all that really matters."
Lewis, on stopping Brady's streak: "That's a great accomplishment. I don't normally give out game balls, but I gave that one to Zimmer. They played well today. They were tight in coverage most of the day. Upfront, they got after it."
Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker: "All week long, all you guys were talking about was Tom Brady. We wanted them to be talking about us."
How the Bengals' season was impacted: Jones' interception not only gave the Bengals a third straight home win, it also propelled Cincinnati toward another win over a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. After beating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the first three weeks of the season, the Bengals added Brady to the list of elite quarterbacks they toppled. The future Hall of Famer entered the game having completed a touchdown pass in his 52 previous games. The streak was the second-longest in NFL history, bested only by New Orleans' Drew Brees who had his streak snapped at 54 in 2012. Prior to this game, Brady had completed a touchdown pass in every game since Sept. 2009. By stopping that streak, the Bengals defense started convincing many around the league that it had the ability to be a true force in 2013. Cincinnati ended the year ranked third in overall defense.