Bernard Scott, Jerome Simpson and Chris Pressley -- names that you haven't heard all season that contributed to Cincinnati's 19-17 win on Sunday.
Note: We'll put a jump in a couple of hours of publication.
Through 14 games this season, Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens recorded a team-high 72 receptions for 983 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. Three times this year, Owens recorded 100-yard performances more and in six games, Owens caught at least six passes or more. That being said, as hints mount towards evidence that this Bengals squad is in for a long offseason with too many deficiencies beyond our eventual new Jesus The Quarterback, no game that Owens recorded 100 yards or more than four receptions did the Bengals win.
It's not necessarily indicative of Owens. In fact, one could simply lay that on Carson Palmer, who noticeably locks into Owens, squeezing passes into windows that his arm is no longer able to do. Interceptions, pass deflections, mostly all into double and triple coverage, was the result. To the many fans' delight, Palmer's locking mechanism, faulty and harmful as its become, was damaged and the team's franchise quarterback was snapped out of his Owens' trance. During the Bengals first drive on Sunday, Owens tore his meniscus in his left knee. He limped off the field and was later carted to the lockerroom from the sidelines. Owens never returned. As a result, the Bengals threw a collection of receivers on the field that we haven't seen all season.
Jerome Simpson caught his first pass since October 19, 2008, finishing the game with two receptions and 30 yards receiving -- including one 15-yard reception where he fought off an illegal contact penalty from defensive rookie of the year candidate Joe Haden. Quan Cosby recorded his second reception of the season; an 11-yard reception on third-and-four with 9:25 left in the second quarter. Andre Caldwell tied a season-high four receptions for a career-high 89 yards receiving that included a game-high 53-yard reception in the fourth quarter that put Cincinnati in a position to take a nine-point lead with just under ten minutes left in the game. Caldwell's 89 yards receiving accounts for 54% of his total production in 2010.
The Bengals passing offense, which injected the fan-demanded youth in a season long lost, didn't set the atmosphere on fire. It wasn't New Orleans, Green Bay, New England or Indianapolis. It was the steady and stable version of last year's passing offense that helped moved the football in an equal partnership between the passing offense and rushing offense. By not throwing an interception for only the second time in the past eight games, Palmer's passing offense wasn't the catalyst of the game-ending mistakes we've seen all season. Nor were they the catalyst of winning the ball game.
That title is held by the Bengals rushing offense. Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott combined for 190 yards rushing on 39 attempts. Benson's 31 attempts against the Browns is only the fifth time he surpassed 30 attempts in his career and the first since recording 36 carries against the Detroit Lions on December 6, 2009. Benson's 150 yards rushing is only the third time he reached 150 yards rushing in his career and the first since rushing for a career-high 189 yards against the Chicago Bears on October 25, 2009.
The Bengals 188 yards rushing as a team (Palmer and Brian Leonard each lost a yard) is the most this season and the most since their 210-yard rushing performance against the Cleveland Browns on November 29, 2009. Additionally Cincinnati's 45 rush attempts is the most since -- anyone? anyone? -- recording 45 rushes against the Browns on -- anyone? anyone? -- November 29, 2009.
And it wasn't just Cincinnati's rushing offense that stole the day. Rookie Carlos Dunlap recorded two more quarterback sacks, giving him 6.5 on the season and at least a shared sack in four straight games and five of the past six games. Geno Atkins recorded a quarterback sack (NFL.com's Game Book says 1.5), giving him 2.5 sacks and at least a shared sack in two of the past three games. Pat Sims also recorded his second quarterback in as many games -- one for each game after his embarrassing offsides against the New Orleans Saints. While Michael Johnson didn't record an official sack, he was just as involved, often forcing Colt McCoy to tuck the football and scramble in the pocket for one of the three defensive linemen to record the sack.
Cincinnati's 19-17 win over the Cleveland Browns wasn't because of one man. The offensive line opened massive gaps for Benson, kept Palmer protected and clearly dictated the game. Palmer didn't make a mistake and Benson slithered through miniature gaps while Chris Pressley pounded helpless victims. The secondary only allowed three plays of 20 yards or more, but remained steady throughout and the Browns never had a chance to establish the run.
Special teams had what you could call their best performance of the year. Clint Stitser converted four field goals, Kevin Huber's lone punt landed inside the 20-yard line, Quan Cosby averaged 13 yards per punt/return and Bernard Scott was active in kickoff returns. Additionally, Joshua Cribbs only averaged 17.4 yards per kickoff return and since the Bengals offense was so efficient, the Browns had one shot to return a punt. It was downed.
Even though the Bengals only won by two points against a team with only five wins this season, Cincinnati's win was a combined effort by every player on this team. And because of that, Cincinnati finally broke their franchise-tying 10-game losing streak.
MOMENT BENGALS OFFENSE CAME ALIVE. The Bengals had the ball on two possessions from the 4:07 mark in the first quarter through the 4:23 mark in the second quarter in which Cincinnati scored 10 points and took a lead that they wouldn't lose for the rest of the afternoon. During those two drives, Carson Palmer completed nine of 11 passes for 97 yards passing, Jerome Simpson caught his first pass in two seasons, Cedric Benson recorded 56 yards rushing on eight carries and Bernard Scott picked up 16 yards on three carries.
The Bengals' lone touchdown drive was so smooth that they only dealt with one third down -- converted on Andre Caldwell's six-yard reception -- on their way to a 91-yard drive on ten plays.
The Bengals converted six of 13 third downs for a 46% conversion. It's only the fifth time this year that Cincinnati's offense had a conversion of 40% of better on third downs.
CRITICAL THIRD DOWN STOP BY MUCKELROY. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Cleveland Browns were down 16-7 on the Bengals five-yard line with one yard to go on third down. Convert the third down and the Browns would have, reasonably, four shots at scoring a touchdown to reduce Cincinnati's lead to two points. Instead, Muckelroy quickly jammed the A-gap with a crushing hit that stopped Peyton Hillis, all 240 pounds of him, while Dhani Jones wrapped Hillis' legs preventing any momentum and forcing the Browns to convert a field goal. The Bengals would respond with their own field goal.
Muckelroy also forced a Joshua Cribbs fumble on a third down punt return that Cribbs would recover.
Personally, I don't like making predictions (stop snickering) about next season in December, but if next season will be the start of another rebuilding project, as we expect it will be, then Muckelroy should be given every opportunity to win the middle linebacker job, even if Dhani Jones returns.
BRIAN ROBISKIE'S 46-YARD TOUCHDOWN. With 2:22 left in the game and the Bengals leading 19-10, Colt McCoy takes the shotgun snap on first down. Brian Robiskie, lined up wide left, ran a vertical route down the left sidelines. The slot receiver broke out, forcing Dhani Jones and Leon Hall to react to the route. The error, we suspect on Hall, completely freed Robiskie, who only had Keiwan Ratliff, not even in Cincinnati for a week, covering like a safety deep. Robiskie hauled in the pass and ran 46 yards for the touchdown.
The play finished the game's scoring with just over two minutes left in the game.
The truth is, Cincinnati's starting cornerbacks Hall and Johnathan Joseph were on their game. Along two passes defensed by Joseph, if you take away Robiskie's 46-yard touchdown reception, Cleveland Browns receivers caught seven receptions for 53 yards receiving. Chansi Stuckey, Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs combined for three receptions (one reception per receiver) for 17 yards receiving.
LINEUP CHANGE AT WIDE RECEIVER. The Bengals started Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell at wide receiver rather than Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. One has to assume that it was in reaction to the receivers' comments last week on the T.Ocho Show on Versus.
"I think there is underachieving you know from the top down," Owens said. "You start off with the owner, you start off with the coaches and obviously we as players. We are a product of what the coaches are doing, are coaching us throughout the course of the week. Of course we have to go out there and play the game but in order for us to do what we’re allowed to do at the best of our ability the coaches have to put the players in the best position."
Chad Ochocinco followed that saying that he feels like he's numb to losing. A result? Simpson and Caldwell start the game and the Bengals win their first game in 84 days, snapping a ten-game losing streak. In Sunday's post game press conference, head coach Marvin Lewis didn't add it, calling it a "personnel decision" with the decision to focus on the run. Whatever it was really, it ended up working for the team.
Both receivers came on the field to resume their wide receiver duties on the second play of the game by the Bengals -- a three-yard pass to Reggie Kelly.
KEIWAN RATLIFF MAKES HIS RETURN. It wasn't shinning moments that finally made us proud to be called Bengals fans, at least for one day. And at one point, he was the final line of defense during Brian Robiskie's 46-yard touchdown reception that reduced Cincinnati's deficit to two points. However, with 4:43 left in the first quarter with five yards to go, Colt McCoy threw a short third down pass to Chansi Stuckey running a crossing pattern from left to right. Ratliff trailing Stuckey, tripped up the receiver as he caught the pass for a limited two-yard reception.
What could have turned into a first down and an obvious situation to convert a field goal at least with the Browns already on Cincinnati's side of the field, the Browns are forced to punt. The Bengals would tie go on to tie the game on the following drive.
WHEN CARLOS DOESN'T RECORD A SACK, HE'S STILL AWESOME. Though both of his quarterback sacks would prevent the Browns from picking up a first down on respective possessions, Carlos Dunlap pressured Colt McCoy on third-and-six with 12 minutes left in the second quarter, knocking the quarterback down. McCoy still got the football out and Robert Geathers knocked the football out of the air.
The Browns are forced to punt and the Bengals take the lead on their ensuing possession.
Dunlap lead all defensive players with three knockdowns on McCoy, including both sacks.
EXAMPLE OF THE BENGALS OVERCOMING ADVERSITY. With just over ten minutes left in the second quarter, the Bengals had just picked up a first down when Carson Palmer threw an incomplete pass over the middle. Bernard Scott takes the handoff and runs behind Andrew Whitworth for another four-yard gain when Reggie Kelly was called for offensive holding.
Now the Bengals are left with second-and-20 with 10:08 left in the second quarter at their own 27-yard line.
No problem. Palmer drops back in shotgun, finds Chad Ochocinco running a square-in route over the middle, picking up 16 yards that sets up third-and-four at the Bengals own 43-yard line. Palmer, in shotgun, takes the snap and finds Quan Cosby over the middle picking up 11 yards and a first down.
Through much of the season, the Bengals are put in down-and-long situations and the offense typically collapses. On Sunday against the Browns, they recovered to sustain drives. Cincinnati would finish the drive on a converted 25-yard Clint Stitser field goal.
EXAMPLE OF THE BENGALS OVERCOMING ADVERSITY II. On the Bengals opening second half drive, Kyle Cook was called for offensive holding on the very first play of the half. Head slams on desk for the inevitability of the team collapsing in the second half.
Instead, Carson Palmer takes the shotgun snap and aims a deep pass at the first down marker on the right sidelines. Andre Caldwell, running a crossing route that began wide left, hauls in the pass, taps both feet in bounds and converts the first down reception.
The Bengals would go on to take a 13-7 lead on Stitser 39-yard field goal.
IT DIDN'T START WITH THE STORY BOOK BEGINNING. The villains had just invaded and sacked Cincinnati, with their really bad breath and smelly body odor. With 12:22 left in the first quarter, Colt McCoy tried to his Peyton Hillis out of the flats on the right. Keith Rivers, seeing aspirations of being favored among Bengals fans at least once in his career, predictably dropped the interception that could have easily been returned for a touchdown. Not that it matters. Dhani Jones was called for a personal foul for helmet-to-helmet contact on the quarterback.
On the very next play, tight end Robert Royal beat Leon Hall (somehow) down the left sidelines and caught a beautifully placed arching pass over Hall for the touchdown. The Browns take a 7-0 lead with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bernard Scott ran up the middle and then stretched his return towards the left sidelines before he was pushed out of bounds at the Browns 17-yard line. Great. We're answering. Dan Skuta was called for an illegal block above the waist. Thankfully, an unsportsmanlike conduct against the Browns was called for a coach getting in an officials' way in the white area (see Sal Alosi). The Bengals were able to start the drive at midfield rather than their own 35-yard line.
What could have all started with a Keith Rivers touchdown return in the first quarter ended up being a 7-0 deficit at midfield. Ultimately it wouldn't hurt Cincinnati in the end -- they actually did win the game -- but it was issues like this that's what cost the Bengals in the past. In this version of the story, the Bengals actually persevered through controversy.
Say what you will about the season. It stinks. Everyone stinks. Everything associated with the Bengals stinks. But at least for three hours on Sunday, December 19, 2010, Bengals fans were given a reprieve to smile and give each other high fives.