Rob Oller of the Columbus Dispatch finished up an article on Friday stating that if the Bengals want to "shed the image of being an organization that botches draft picks and trades is to trade body blows with Pittsburgh and come away bloodied but not bullied. It is decision time -- gulp -- in Cincinnati. Will the Bengals punch back?" After the heart stopping, nerve wrecking finish this past weekend against Pittsburgh, I think we can all say the Bengals Punched Back.
The Steelers threw the first punch jumping out to a 13-0 lead and holding the Bengals offense to -10 total yards for the first quarter. That kind of a blow would have been a knockout punch most teams, including the Bengals of recent past. But the Bengals never quit. Usually when the Bengals fall behind as they did, I have a tendency to toss in the towel. My wife and I have grown accustom to them falling behind early in the game and then falling even further behind by the end of the third quarter, becoming so disgusted that we had to change to another game. But we didn’t. We decided to stick with the game and see if the Bengals can counter punch.
Hope was kept alive with the interception return by Jonathon Joseph that brought the score closer at 13-9. But all hope was nearly dashed when the Steelers drove down and scored again to increase their lead to 20-9, with that,my wife and I felt the knockout punch had finally been delivered and the game was lost. I guess we were glutens for some more punishment to continue watching the Steelers continued domination of the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium as we stuck with it. Something just felt right that the Bengals were going to do something that usually happens to them.
To start the 4th quarter, Cedric Benson scored on a terrific 23 yard touchdown run around the end bringing the score to 20-15. I think the decision was correct on going for two, but I think a more creative play may have ended in a different result. But no matter, the Bengals had delivered a counter blow that seemed to rock the Steelers as momentum was wrestled away from the visitors and in the hands of the home team.
When the Bengals got the ball back with around 5 minutes to play, I screamed at the TV (I know, like they heard me) "score and don’t give them any time left". As the Bengals drove the field, I noticed that the team felt confident with the belief of something good was going to happen. Carson Palmer never got flustered and looked comfortable and poised, slicing the Steeler defense like he was carving a thanksgiving turkey.
But then they had to convert the first of two 4th down plays. That is when the nerves started to kick in, my wife and I held our breath and we squinted when Carson dropped back to pass only to deliver a strike to Laveranues Coles converting the first down. Then things got really anxious as Carson spiked the ball on the ensuing play and threw two more incomplete passes to force 4th down again, but this time it was 10 yards instead of the 2.
Step in Brian Leonard with a cape on his back and a big "S" on his chest, someone who I felt would not make the team, making the game saving catch and run, leaping across the 5 yard line to make the 1st down conversion. Had the play not been converted, I am sure the play would have been heavily criticized because why throw a pass three yard short of the first down marker when you need 10 yards to convert. Since the conversion was made, anyone have any criticism to convey? Not from this writer.
With the history of the Bengals bungling a play to lose the game, my wife and I were fully expecting something to happen that will crush all of our hearts, as always. I expected the passes to be deflected or dropped, Palmer sacked, or an offensive penalty, making things as difficult as possible to win the game. With as much disappointment we have suffered through over the decades, this kind of expectation is sure to surface.
After Leonard made the catch to save the game, the sight of Andrew Caldwell standing in the end zone spiking the ball after making the catch just sent me and my wife into a delirious joy not felt in some time. When watching the replay from the end zone angle, I noticed Carson eyes were focused only on Caldwell and there was nothing going to stop him from sticking that pass into Andre’s chest.
This game should go down, if not in the Marvin Lewis era, but in team history, as one of best ever. I know Josh conducted a survey recently as to what game we thought was the best ever. But if this game had been played prior to the survey, it would have ranked at or near the top.
The Bengals showed a resilience not seen in some time, taking punch after punch from the Steelers. The confidence gained from this performance could propel this team to a height not experienced in some time. The team that is still learning to play together after only three games as the roster was renovated in the off season. This just maybe what the team needed to believe in itself that they can overcome adversity against anybody. The Bengals may have been bloodied in this slugfest with the defending Super Bowl champions, but they were not bullied. The Bengals had punched back!