It was a horrific sequence of events.
With 9:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton was sacked on first down, pressured into throwing the football away on second (with a visibly frustrated A.J. Green), and sacked again on third. If more fans filled the seats at Paul Brown Stadium, the booing and jeering would be far more prominent. It felt deflating; more like the realization of an eventuality; Cincinnati was going to lose, and lose to a bad Colts team.
The Colts had already managed to control virtually every aspect of the game. Their power running game was wearing down Cincinnati’s highly ranked defense, who were uncomfortably distributing first downs like halloween candy. Indianapolis was dominating the time of possession, and scoring five times over a span of six possessions between the second and fourth quarters. Andy Dalton was under constant threat, real and imagined, forcing him to abandoned the pocket, take a sack, or throw the football before the routes matured. None of Cincinnati’s running backs managed much; though Joe Mixon had a delicious 67-yard reception midway into the second quarter, capped by an A.J. Green eight-yard reception to tie the game at 10.
Kevin Huber crushed the 60-yard punt into the endzone with 7:40 remaining in the fourth. The end was near.
Desperation. Despair. Hopelessness. Images of a long-gone era between Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick LeBeau, start to emerge. No. Not images. More like feelings. Remember how you felt during that era? Motivation was nonexistent. Effort, less so. No one wants to be here. Not the fans that turned up, nor the players. It was sloppy, with bountiful errors beginning with special teams, from a muffed punt return by Alex Erickson (leading to a field goal) to a blocked Randy Bullock field goal attempt. The struggling offensive line is becoming a fixture and a liability for Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard, who collectively fought for 34 yards on 17 carries. Pass protection wasn’t great either, with Dalton being sacked three times and forced out of the pocket often.
Yet, through the disgusting nature of Cincinnati’s performance on Sunday, the Bengals were peripherally close all afternoon.
And it was with a single moment when despair turned to hope and jeers transforming into cheers.
Indianapolis has second-and-six from their own 24 yard-line with 7:05 remaining in the game. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett secures the shotgun snap and immediately targets right. With a quick squeeze of the football, Indianapolis’ quarterback cocked his arm and releases. C’mon, you just know that he’s targeting Jack Doyle, who posted 121 yards on 12 receptions.
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap calculates the throw, time in transit, angle of deflection… or maybe he just took advantage of his incredible wingspan, deflecting the pass, and clutching the football for an interception. With his arms cradled around the football, Dunlap sprinted 16 yards into the endzone to give Cincinnati a 24-23 lead with 6:58 remaining in the game. His defensive brothers emotionally celebrated as Paul Brown Stadium magically erupting.
The Bengals would go on to win.
And they needed this win after a bad week.
1)Marvin Lewis walked out of a postgame press conference last week, with one reporter asking why Lewis went for it on fourth-and-goal from the one. What was your thinking, asked one reporter during Cincinnati’s postgame presser. “To score a touchdown,” Lewis said incredulously before laughing his way out of the room. We’re fairly certain the question was purposefully asked to generate some optimism. Lewis had enough though. The following day, he offered some really odd explanations why Joe Mixon isn’t starting.
2)In addition to losing to the Steelers by 15 points, the Bengals looked clueless in the second half against Pittsburgh In six of their final seven possessions, Bill Lazor’s offense generated 19 total yards, one first down, while averaging a laughable 0.95 yards/play. And the final possession of the game? A victory formation knee to end the game to end the game with 38 seconds remaining.
It was the concession heard around the world:
- Ending the game
- Probably the season (though someone more optimistic than I can argue there’s still time)
- And maybe Marvin Lewis’ career in Cincinnati
3)Rookie running back Joe Mixon had a fast start against the Steelers, generating 48 yards rushing on by the 8:37 mark in the second quarter. Ironically, Mixon only generated 18 yards on 11 carries against the Colts; though we hardly blame him for that when the offensive line is built to struggle as much as they have; however the fumble was definitely Mixon’s fault and he knew it walking off the field. Regardless, he complained about the lack of opportunities and Lewis said he needs to show more maturity by not complaining to the press.
This house is lacking order and the question of leadership is obvious.
Regardless, the win over the Colts eases those concerns for the moment while Cincinnati improves to 3-4. They play their next three games on the road in Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Denver before coming home for a three-game homestand against Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.