It would be wise to say the Bengals game-winning touchdown drive as, thus far, the marquee comeback performance of the season. They were down 13-0 in the first half before converting a late first half field goal. Late in the third quarter, the Bengals started feeling it; Leon Hall had left and Rey Maualuga was being carted off after Ben Roethlisberger stretched into the endzone on a quarterback sneak with 3:04 left in the third quarter.
Things looked bad.
Then, on fourth-and-three at the Cincinnati 38-yard line with 1:32 left in the third quarter, Brad St Louis snapped the football to the up-back, Chris Crocker, who rushed for 21 yards and the unlikely first down. Cedric Benson rushed for nine yards, lost two yards before the third quarter ended. The Bengals picked up one first down in the third quarter -- the fake punt. Even so, Shayne Graham attempted a 52-yard field goal attempt, which, as one commenter said in the open thread, might have hit a pigeon.
The Bengals defense weren't through. They were determined to stay in this game. Hall and Maualuga return to the field after respective injuries. Willie Parker rushes twice for three yards and Roethlisberger completed a pass to Mike Wallace a yard short of the first down. At this point, there was no reason to think that the Bengals could overcome an 11-point deficit with under 13 minutes to play in this football game. So the Steelers elect to punt on fourth-and-one at mid-field. It was the smart conservative choice.
This is when Carson Palmer showed up at the front door presenting gifts to the football gods.
The football gods, smiling like football gods smile, repaid in kind. The Bengals ran mostly shotgun formations in five of the next six plays (one of which was a defensive pass interference), completing passes to Andre Caldwell (14 yards) and Chad Ochocinco (14 yards). After rushing the ball for eight yards, James Harrison kind-of sacked Carson Palmer, who was dropped at the line of scrimmage. It was a kind-of sack because the Bengals didn't lose any yardage and Palmer had already decided to run with the football. On third-and-two, Palmer hit Laveranues Coles for a nine yard conversion.
Palmer hands off to Benson, who stretches outside Andrew Whitworth, and sprints down the sidelines, largely unmolested for a 23-yard touchdown run. After a failed two-point conversion, the Bengals kickoff with a 20-15 lead and 9:14 left in the game. What's most impressive about the touchdown drive is that the Cincinnati Bengals started the drive at their own 15-yard line. It took them six plays to go the length of the football field for the score.
But the Bengals were still down by five points. A botched field goal attempt forced the Bengals into a two-point conversion later, which also failed. We wonder if we shouldn't call the botched PAT the biggest good mistake of the year -- the football gods smiling? If the Bengals know that they can tie the game, do they try to win the game with a touchdown when a field goal with a five-point deficit does them no good? Karma is a bitch. And that bitch has been knocking at our front door way too much this season.
You have to give the defense 90% of the credit for this one. The defense was spitting at this point. After allowing 13 points in the first three possessions, the defense forced a turnover on downs, a pick-six, a missed field goal, a touchdown and back-to-back punts. In fact, the Steelers offense gained more than 10 yards on only one offensive possession in the second half. The defense didn't allow the Steelers a first down in three of the five second half possessions; if you don't include the Steelers final possession -- a one-play hail mary. In two of the first three possessions in the first half, the Steelers were within the Bengals ten-yard line. Both times the Steelers kicked field goals rather than touchdowns. Going down 21-0 with 12:44 left in the second quarter, would have been disaster.
Instead, it turned out to be manageable.
With the score being 20-15 in favor of the Steelers, Pittsburgh started their offensive possession at their own 27-yard line. Domata Peko destroyed Willie Parker before Roethlisberger completed two passes for 11 yards and a first down. The clock was crucial at this point. There was no reason to believe the Bengals had a big offensive play in their pocket; a sustained drive was their best shot at winning this football game. But the defense still needed to save the Bengals. Just one more time.
Parker rushed two twice for four yards setting up a third-and-six at the Pittsburgh 42-yard line with 5:54 left in the game. Roethlisberger sets up in shotgun, when the entire Bengals defensive line collapses the pocket. Antwan Odom got a hand in; Robert Geathers, Pat Sims and everyone else cleaned up the mess. It was, perhaps, the most critical sack of the season. Steelers punt and Quan Cosby, who is the best punt returner this team has seen in ages, returns it 17 yards to the Bengals 29-yard line.
The Bengals down by five, have 5:14 to drive the football 71 yards for the required touchdown to take the lead. A field goal wasn't an option. So Brad St. Louis can stay over there, by the cooling fan, where he would do the least amount of damage. After a three-yard run for formality purposes, Palmer hits Coles and Benson for 22 yards. Benson rushes for another eight yards (another formality). Palmer scrambles for a yard in between two Caldwell receptions that picked up another 17 yards. Bengals take their first time out with a minute left in the game.
At this point, fans are generating so much anxiety that the general feeling of broken hearts inadvertently swell; it's a defensive mechanism; it just happens. The Bengals offense was as productive as it had been all game. Still, one tipped pass could fall into a defender's basket at any time. A quarterback sack could make to-go yardage too far. This isn't just a feeling being a Bengals fan, but most fans get this feeling late in games. It's the one play that messes everything up. Some teams just do it more often, you know, like the Bengals.
After an all-or-nothing pass to Chad Ochocinco into the endzone that fell incomplete, the Steelers called a timeout and the Bengals offense huddled on the sideline, discussing what to-do. See, it's not just any ordinary think tank. The Bengals were a touchdown away of winning the first game, at home, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, since 2001. The Bengals were a touchdown away from putting a blemish on that idiotic statistic that Ben Roethlisberger hadn't lost a game as a professional in the state of Ohio. It was a discussion towards a decision that you wish you were apart of.
However Bengals players didn't feel that weight upon them. No. They were serene. They knew they could do it. This is something Bengals fans are unaccustomed too, so we're taken aback. Palmer. Shotgun. Five-yard pass to Laveranues Coles. First down. Holy crap. It really happened that fast? Holy crap. It really happened?
Alright, alright. The Bengals are alive. There's :48 seconds left on the clock when Carson Palmer spikes the football. Three downs to go. Palmer fired a pass over the middle to Chad Ochocinco that Ike Taylor needed a full body stretch to barely tip, which caused the football's trajectory to fade away from Chad. Incomplete. My finger nails are like, so gone. After throwing an incomplete pass to Chris Henry, the Bengals were left with a fourth-and-ten situation. So they call a timeout.
They wouldn't do it again, would they? Apparently they didn't feel the anxiety we did. Palmer, cool as a cat, started talking about Gatorade mixtures. Chad's planning his topics for tonight's ustream session, even calling around to book guests. The offensive line discusses how wave-particle duality relates to quantum physics. Palmer looks down the field, starts to rollout right when Aaron Smith got a fist-full of jersey. Palmer, with a heavy diet of John Morrell hot dogs, throws the football to Brian Leonard out of the backfield. With about a yard or two short of the first down, James Farrior hits Leonard, knocking him down. Leonard, like a climatic moment of a movie, lowers his hand on the turf and propels himself over the first down marker. First down.
At that point, while cheering, about 15 of us suffer a heart attack while the rest of us jump with some awesome fist-pumping motion. Palmer spikes the football to stop the clock. With :18 left in the game, Palmer takes the shotgun snap and... did he really catch it? After putting "DOA" in big block letters on the team in the first quarter, did Andre Caldwell really catch the game-winning touchdown? When the camera zoomed in, it showed the Bengals receiver with the football. Like it was supposed to happen. Calm. Cool. Collected. The Bengals offense just scored their second touchdown to take the lead away from the defending Super Bowl champions. Brian Leonard caught a two-yard point after attempt, giving the Bengals a three-point lead.
After that, it was semantics. The Steelers tried to do what desperate teams try to do. Lateral the football on kickoff return in the hopes that someone breaks free. It wasn't meant to be. The football gods were pleased with Cincinnati. Way too charged up to let anything happen, with the heart-breaking loss to the Denver Broncos still fresh on their minds, the Bengals weren't about to lose this one. As a result, the Steelers wasted 12 seconds on the kickoff return giving Roethlisberger all of two seconds for a 66-yard touchdown throw. Hey, it happened to us once before, why not again, right? Geoffrey Pope made a play on the football, which feel harmlessly to the ground.
The Bengals were awful in every phase of the game leading up to the fourth quarter. The defense turned things around earliest to start the second half with a pick-six by Johnathan Joseph. When Carson Palmer and the offense had a chance to win the game out of the clutches of defeat (cliche alert!), they did. Palmer did. For all of the complaining we've justifiably shouted about Palmer in the past, against the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, he led the offense on game-winning touchdown drives. Denver was what it was. Palmer did his part in the end.
So far we have names for the first two games this season. We have The Fluke against the Denver Broncos. The holy crap we just converted a third-and-34 by accident against the Packers (probably should come up with a better name). Now we have several nominations for a name against the Steelers. We could call it The Drive. We could call it The Fourth. We could call it, The Comeback. Whatever it is, it's a win. A critical division win in comeback fashion. The Bengals players proved something to their fans. They won't quit until the very end. We should be proud of these guys. They did what we asked them to. Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. And they did it.