Cincinnati tries to overcome adversity for an encore as the Cardiac Cats

You have to acknowledge, even appreciate, how the Bengals played their guts out after Chris Henry's death, who was a friend and a teammate, just days before. Nevertheless, you don't have to like the result. During the final series, the Bengals secondary left the sidelines undefended, saying to San Diego's offense that it's open for you to stop the clock... after catching the pass, of course. A defensive unit that's largely been the strength of this football team, uncharacteristically faltered during the game's final, and very critical, drive. With 12 seconds left during a tie game, Chargers wide receiver Malcolm Floyd ran a 15-yard out route. Right there, the sidelines, wide open, run out to stop the clock. Please, take it. Philip Rivers hit Floyd in stride, stopping the clock and picking up enough yardage so Nate Kaeding could kick the game-winning 52-yard field goal.

But as much as much as I want to criticize the Bengals for losing their second straight game, their third loss in their past five games and inching closer to a Baltimore Ravens team that's won exactly one game less than Cincinnati, I can't. I simply can't. Cincinnati gave it their all. They faced enormous adversity throughout the day. Hell, throughout the week. With 6:21 left in the third quarter, the Bengals offense committed three consecutive presnap fouls, penalizing themselves into a first-and-25 scenario on their own seven-yard line. Cincinnati then called a timeout. A timeout? Now? What else could you do but laugh hysterically? They couldn't recover and went three and out. After Nate Kaeding kicked a 33-yard field goal to give the Chargers an 11-point lead, Cincinnati made their run, right? No. After back-to-back runs by Cedric Benson to gain four yards rushing, Carson Palmer throws an incomplete third down pass. Punt.

At this point it appeared like Cincinnati was drained. I'm not saying that they were giving up. Just drained. Emotionally. Physically. Everything. Like no matter how hard you ran, you couldn't pick up speed. A dream, where you keep falling while being chased by an evil witch. Or my ex-girlfriend. We've all been there when we've had days at work in which we're exhausted, having lost all patience and motivations. Then Keith Rivers intercepts a pass intended for Antonio Gates. Then Chad hauls in a backwards pass out of the backfield and picks up 26 yards. Then Carson Palmer found and nailed Laveranues Coles in the endzone for a touchdown. Then Carson Palmer converted the two points on a called quarterback sneak.

Suddenly Cincinnati scored a game-tying field goal with 57 seconds left in the game after driving from their own three-yard line. But in the end, it wasn't meant to be. They're still the cardiac cats and they played the tune they've played all year. So acknowledge and appreciate your Bengals for their efforts. As for the result, that's another matter.

It didn't start like it was supposed to start. Darren Sproles returns the game opening kickoff 45 yards to the Chargers 45-yard line. Why is this important aside for field position? Quite simply, we had no idea how the Bengals would react Sunday after Henry's death. San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was left uncovered out of the backfield through the first drive, catching two passes for 19 yards without a defender in the area. Tomlinson picked up another 15 yards on the ground on a drive that went 55 yards on 11 plays, ending with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates. That was the first touchdown allowed by the Bengals on an opening drive since October 19, 2008 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The age of passing is back, Bengals score their first points of the game. Carson Palmer and the Bengals responded by converting two third downs longer than eight yards to go; a 12-yard pass to Andre Caldwell, a 14-yard pass to Chad Ochocinco. Palmer and the Bengals passing game looked vastly improved, very much in synch and evidently comfortable. However, their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone continued, leaving four points on the field after Shayne Graham converted a 26-yard field goal.

Bengals take a 10-7 lead with an emotional 49-yard touchdown by Chad Ochocinco. Cincinnati's offense returns to the field, after scoring a field goal on their first possession, followed by an outstanding defensive effort allowing only one first down. After Cedric Benson picked up seven yards behind the hulking body of Andrew Whitworth, Palmer was sacked by Kevin Ellison, who blitzed off the right edge. A millisecond before a delay of game was called, Marvin Lewis called a timeout to prevent a third-and-18. Instead, Palmer, on third-and-13, found an uncovered J.P. Foschi over the middle who conquered all and picked up 14 yards and a first down. How does did Foschi look? Benson picked up five yards on the ground on back-to-back runs, which set up third-and-five at the Bengals 39-yard line. Brian Leonard, lined up in the slot on the left, ran a short out, caught the pass and thanks to his godlike field awareness, dove for the first down. On second-and-four at the San Diego 49-yard line, Chad Ochocinco lines up wide left, scorches the defense with a that-looks-really-easy sprint down the left sidelines, hauling in a perfectly placed pass by Carson Palmer for a 49-yard touchdown reception.

Johnathan Joseph gives the Bengals their first turnover of the game. On third-and-nine at the Chargers 46-yard line with 10:42 left in the first half, the Bengals defense brings seven rushers, one of whom is Chinedum Ndukwe. Breaking free, Ndukwe drills Rivers just as the quarterback made a deep throw. Johnathan Joseph located the rainbow pass before Chargers receiver Malcolm Floyd and intercepted the pass. Cincinnati would go on to give up a sack, run on second-21 at their own 15-yard line, then later punt.

Vincent Jackson and the Chargers take the lead with a 21-yard touchdown pass. With 7:25 left in the second quarter, Antonio Gates catches a dinky short pass. With nimble stalwarts tasked with challenging Gates, the tight end changed directions forcing Jonathan Fanene, who sat in zone coverage, and Rey Maualuga to overshoot, picking 13 yards and the first down. On the next play, Gates ran a crossing pattern from left to right, caught the pass, shifted, spun, juked and nimbly forced Morgan Trent to miss another tackle, picking up 12 yards and another first down. Several plays later, Vincent Jackson got separation from Leon Hall, faked a post, which caused Hall to break in. Instead Jackson broke out and ran towards the left side of the endzone, catching a touchdown pass on a dive.

Redzone issues continue; Bengals score a field goal to reduce Charger's lead before half time.With three minutes left in the first half, the Bengals called Larry Johnson's number three times on four plays, picking up 38 yards rushing in the process. Palmer threw a needle to Laveranues Coles with 1:14 left in the half over the middle on a slant, picking up another 21 yards. Cincinnati's offense picked up 67 yards on seven plays in two and a half minutes. After that, it was the same story we've seen in the second half of the season. The inability to score touchdowns in the redzone. After spiking the football to stop the clock, Palmer threw back-to-back incomplete passes to J.P. Foschi forcing Shayne Graham to convert a 25-yard field goal.

A bit of advice: Stop going into the redzone!

Mental mistakes on offense returns to start the second half. Thanks to Shawne Merriman's jump offsides, the Bengals were left with a third-and-one at their own 34-yard line with 13:14 left in the third quarter. Benson pounded the point of attack, picking up the first down. However, Cincinnati's offense broke down with mental mistakes after Laveranues Coles made caught a 17-yard pass. Illegal formation. Pass deflected at the line of scrimmage. Delay of game. Bengals are forced with a third-and-21 at their own 46-yard line. Palmer finds Foschi over the middle for an 11 yard gain. Bengals punt.

Big defensive stand; preventing Rivers from picking up the first down. After two runs picking up nine yards midway through the third quarter, the Chargers line up big formation at their own 29-yard line. Philip Rivers takes the snap and sneaks up the middle. Cincinnati's defense stacked the line, expecting the trickery of a sneaky quarterback, holding Rivers from converting the first. Chargers punt.

Bengals: Momentum.
Josh: Is a bitch.

Palmer's interception and blown coverage by the Bengals secondary leads to a 34-yard touchdown by Vincent Jackson. Chad Ochocinco lined up on the right, ran 10 yards and broke in. Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer anticipated the route, stretched his arms and picked off the pass. On second down, Rivers found Vincent Jackson running free down the left sidelines. The Bengals secondary blew the coverage, with Leon Hall allowing Jackson to release upfield without safety help. Jackson easily scored the touchdown, taking a 21-13 lead.

Bengals offense has an epic breakdown -- before their first snap. Here is a list of items by the Bengals with 6:21 left in the third quarter.

  • False start by Dennis Roland
  • Illegal substitution
  • Delay of Game

Then the Bengals take a timeout. The epitome of how this team loses focus is showcased here in a way we haven't seen before. Before their first snap on their third offensive possession in the second half leads to 15 lost yards before taking their first snap.

  • Cedric Benson misses the handoff when Palmer decides to check down to a draw in shotgun formation.

Palmer dumped off a surrender-pass to J.P. Foschi on third-and-19. Bengals punt. Mercifully.

Tomlinson picks up 36 yards on a screen; Chargers take a 24-13 lead. With 4:27 left in the third quarter at their own 27-yard line, Rivers fakes the handoff to Tomlinson who sits to the left waiting for the screen pass. After the catch, Tomlinson sprints. And sprints. He's still sprinting. Hell, I'm parched with all of the sprinting. He's still running. Finally Tomlinson is tackled at the Cincinnati 37-yard line, picking up 36 yards. After a no-gain by Sproles, Rivers finds Jackson over the middle, catching his first non-touchdown reception of the game. On third-and-six at the Bengals 15-yard line, Rivers throws a rainbow pass to Vincent Jackson near the front left pylon. Leon Hall jumped with Jackson, separating the ball from the receiver causing an incomplete pass. The Chargers' Nate Kaeding converts the 33-yard field goal and the Chargers take a 24-13 lead. Leon Hall may have struggled throughout most of the game, but he made a play that saved four points; a deficit that makes the Bengals comeback all but impossible later.

And then the Bengals write the story about how comebacks after epic breakdowns happen. With 14:11 left in the game, Rivers lobs a pass to Antonio Gates. The football bounced around a jiffy and Keith Rivers hauls down the pass for the interception. On the first play, Palmer fakes the end around to Chad Ochocinco and then flips the pass to Chad out of the backfield, who runs left, right, forward, backward, diagonally, and picks up 26 yards down the left sidelines. Bengals at the Chargers seven-yard line. Oh, no. Redzone. After a five-yard pass to Jeremi Johnson, Palmer throws the football to Laveranues Coles towards the right side of the endzone. Coles catches the touchdown and the Bengals cut the score to 24-19. Bengals elect to go for the two-point conversion. Quarterback draw. Palmer scores. Just as we expected. Bengals down by three points.

The bookend of the Dhani. After Dhani Jones dropped Tomlinson for a one-yard loss with 12:32 left in the game, Rivers finds Jackson for a 15-yard gain on second down. After Keith Rivers sacked Rivers for an eight-yard loss, Chinedum Ndukwe was called for illegal contact and an automatic first down. After Maualuga stopped Tomlinson for a three-yard gain, Philip Rivers finds Malcolm Floyd running down the middle for a 20-yard gain. After Rivers completes two dinky two-yard passes for four yards, Dhani Jones slams into Floyd, who caught the pass out of bounds. Chargers punt. Dhani. The man that a lot of people want to run out of town so Rey Maualuga can start at middle linebacker.

And this time the game wasn't decided by another Andre Caldwell fumble... somewhat. Benson picks up ten yards down the left sidelines. J.P. Foschi is called for holding, bringing the Bengals back to their own three-yard line with 6:49 left in the game. Foschi says, "my bad boys, I'll make it up." On first-and-12, Palmer hits Foschi over the middle picking up 21 yards. On third-and-four at their own 30-yard line, Palmer hits Quan Cosby for five yards and the first down. Bengals moving. They're motivated again. They're the cardiac cats again. Palmer hits Foschi on a first down pass at their own 35-yard line, running across the field, picking up 15 yards. First down. Palmer is forced to rollout to the right with 4:39 left in the game, finds Cedric Benson, who picks up another 11 yards. He finds Benson on the next down for another eight yards.

Bengals driving... awesomely. The AFC North and possibly the second seed on the line. Benson gets the hand off and picks up 12 yards on second-and-two with 3:14 left in the game. Man, oh man. I can feel it. They're going to take it.

Then...

False start on Foschi. Palmer throws a quick pass to Andre Caldwell on the left. Tim Dobbins nails Caldwell, who losses the football. No, not just loses the football. The football shoots out of a canon about 20 yards backwards. Palmer dove on the fumble.

Cincinnati is stuck with second-and-36 at the Chargers 45-yard line. Palmer takes the shotgun snap, looks deep. Finds no one and hits Foschi on the left sidelines for a limited six-yard gain, leaving third-and-30. Cosby, lined up third wide receiver in from the right, crosses the field and picks up 22 yards, setting up game-tying field goal by Shayne Graham. I opened my eyes after the attempted kick and the field goal was made.

Bengals tied the game on a 12-play, 79 yard field goal drive. Granted, the Bengals tied the game. But how much easier would it have been to sustain the drive and picked up the first down if not for Caldwell's fumble? We still like the guy. But c'mon.

But Rivers and the Chargers offense set up Nate Kaeding's 52-yard game winner. With :54 seconds left in the game, starting at their own 20-yard line, the Bengals defense played soft coverage, especially considering the edges. Rivers completed four of five passes (the fifth being a spike) for 46 yards setting up a Nate Kaeding 52-yard field goal, that he nailed.

If you were not a fan of either team, this football game was very entertaining. If you're a fan of the Bengals, you have to appreciate how tough they played. But the same things bit Cincinnati as they have all year. Penalties. Turnovers. Lack of redzone production. Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes.

Cincinnati takes on the Kansas City Chiefs next week, who gave up 351 yards rushing to the Cleveland Browns.

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