Sunday, January 26, 2014
Ten plays that shaped Bengals' year: No. 2
By Coley Harvey
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. 2:
What happened:Aaron Rodgers had the Packers driving. Between the time their second-to-last series of the game started and abruptly finished, more than six minutes had ticked off the fourth-quarter game clock. Green Bay was playing for keeps. Hopeful for one more score, the Packers, who lost one of their top pass-catching threats in Jermichael Finley to injury earlier in the game, were running the ball in an effort to leave the Bengals with very little time to make their own rebuttal.
But that extra score wouldn't come. With just more than four minutes remaining, and the ball on the Cincinnati 41, the Packers committed a turnover that led to an eventual game-winning Bengals touchdown that left the sold-out Paul Brown Stadium crowd roaring.
Down 30-27 as the Packers lined up for a fourth-and-1 conversion, Cincinnati's defense piled seven players into the box, including linebacker Vontaze Burfict and safety Reggie Nelson, who appeared to be blitzing from the line of scrimmage off the strongside edge. Perhaps sensing the pair, Packers running back Johnathan Franklin stutter-stepped toward the weak side of the line, charging ahead behind his right guard when he was handed the ball for the short-conversion run. That decision didn't pan out, though, as he was stuffed before he could find a hole. In the same split second when he got stood up by the Bengals' defensive tackles, Franklin took a shot from defensive end Michael Johnson, whose helmet punched the ball loose.
Nelson, who dropped back at the snap in an effort to help prevent a possible dive over the top of the pile, was standing free when the ball hit the ground. He saw it before most, grabbed it and spun off Rodgers in the same motion. Just as Nelson was picking up the ball, the quarterback realized the fumble had occurred and tried to stop the safety. While he was unsuccessful, receiver Randall Cobb wasn't. He caught Nelson from behind, forcing his own fumble. That's when an alert Terence Newman came to the rescue for the Bengals, swooping in for his own scoop. Unlike Nelson, though, it would be a scoop and score. With teammates flanking him, Newman sprinted 58 yards untouched before ending up in the end zone and jogging over to fans in the South stands and performing his Cincinnati version of the Lambeau Leap.
The defensive touchdown put the Bengals up 34-30 and in need of another dramatic stop. Thanks to another key play by Johnson, they got it. After marching into the red zone, the Packers, out of timeouts, had another fourth down to convert. This time, they took the air. Rodgers looked left and tried to zip a pass to James Jones. The ball barely left his hand, though, before Johnson deflected it at the line. Even though about a minute remained on the clock, the win had been clinched.
What they said about it: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis: "We learned some valuable lessons and survived one that you don't survive very often."
Bengals seventh-year cornerback Leon Hall: "There's been a lot of crazy games since I've been here. But that one's up there. Top three."
Newman: "I saw Reggie pick it up and I was trying to get a block and somebody was trying to tackle him. I was screaming: Pitch it! Pitch it! Next thing I know, I saw the ball pop loose. It took a nice little bounce where I could just grab it and run."
Newman, on the leap: "I know they were a big Lambeau Leap team, so I wanted to jump up there. I saw a bunch of fans over there. I don't know what came over me. I'll never do that again."
How the Bengals' season was impacted: Much like Cincinnati's performance two weeks later when it held New England to six points, this particular performance set the tone for how good -- particularly late in games -- the Bengals' defense would be during the season. The unit finished the year ranked the third-best in the league. Defensive scores like Newman's, one of six the Bengals had at home in 2013, were among the reasons there was a perception that Cincinnati's defense carried the team. The fact Bengals defenders were on the field for nearly all of the last 10 minutes of this game and didn't allow a potent Packers offense to score also went far in showing just how good the unit could end up being, as well.