If there were a tail of two halves in an NFL game, this would have been the crowning achievement for any seasoned author. Only 41,142 paid to watch Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, a record low for a regular season game at Paul Brown Stadium.
And at various points late in the first half, virtually anyone sporting proud Bengals colors weren't feeling very proud; actually felt more compelled to jeer the offense that wasn't moving the football with any inspired optimism that the Bengals could rebound after facing a 14-point first half deficit.
It Was The Worst Of Times... Asking my twitter followers to describe the offensive first half with one word, some of the responses included: inconsistent, young, offensive, inept, handicapped, disappointing, undimensional, nonexistent, fail, gutless, depressing, dire, confused, lacking, flaccid, incapable.
The idea of pulling Dalton rattled around in my head, feeling that this team close enough on the shoulders of a very impressive defense with an offense just needing a spark to ignite.
The first half for the Bengals offense went punt, punt, field goal, punt and back-to-back interceptions that led to 14 points (one of which the Bills defense returned for a touchdown). Quarterback Andy Dalton completed only seven of 20 passes for 116 yards passing with a passer rating of 15.8 in the first half. Cedric Benson recorded 17 yards rushing on eight carries.
The Bengals posted 165 yards on 38 offensive plays, averaging 4.34 yards/play in the half. And if you take out Andrew Hawkins bubble screen (ata boy little Hawk!) and A.J. Green's 58-yard completion in the second quarter, you also remove half of Cincinnati's total offensive production.
When the first half expired and you were one of the lucky few to watch Sunday's game, it was a depressing journey into what was appearing as a loss behind an offense falling further into degradation, worse than Cincinnati's ineffective showing against the San Francisco 49ers.
What actually occurred in the second half was something that a Bengals fan can only describe as beautiful.
Incredible Defensive Performance... Now we have to be fair about one thing before anything else is spoken about the offense. Cincinnati's defense came to play and they were, hands down, the most impressive group at Paul Brown Stadium. Buffalo came into the game sporting the league's top scoring offense, averaging 37.7 points per game; Cincinnati's defense held Buffalo to 13 points (seven points were scored off a pick-six by Buffalo's defense). The Bills averaged 431.0 yards per game; Cincinnati's defense held Buffalo to just 273 total yards. Of 11 possessions in the game, the Bengals defense forced eight punts, six of which were the result of three-and-out possessions.
Rey Maualuga had his best performance of the season, posting a team-high 11 tackles. Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins posted a shared quarterback stop and Domata Peko contributed with six tackles, one for loss. Chris Crocker, Johnson, Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Frostee Rucker recorded hits on the quarterback and Nate Clements had two big pass deflections. We could go on. This defense was incredible, proving once again a good defense will always beat a good offense.
It Was The Best Of Times... The Bengals opened the second half with a seven-play drive for 78 yards, forced to convert a Mike Nugent 21-yard field goal, reducing their deficit to 11 points. During the following possession, after the defense held Buffalo to a three-and-out, the Bengals put together a seven-play drive for 72 yards, capped with a 17-yard Jermaine Gresham touchdown and a four-point deficit.
In that third quarter alone, Andy Dalton completed five of six passes for 95 yards passing and a touchdown. Cedric Benson and the revitalized rushing offense picked up 60 yards on seven runs in the third quarter alone.
|Andy Dalton by the halves.|
The defense impressively held the Bills to a field goal after Buffalo ran 17 plays and consumed 9:04 off the clock. Consider for a moment if the defense allows a touchdown after a nine-minute possession how dramatically different this game turns out. Buffalo would only pick up one first down during their final two possessions in the game.
With 8:28 left in the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense ran 10 plays for 80 yards capped with a game-tying touchdown. The play itself was the creation of ingenuity that no one expected. Andy Dalton in shotgun from the Bills three-yard line and five wide receivers spread out across the line of scrimmage, Dalton takes the snap and runs into the end zone for the game-tying score.
The defense held the Bills at their own 37-yard line, forcing the once-undefeated Bills to punt the football to the Bengals 19-yard line. Brian Leonard, not Cedric Benson nor Bernard Scott, became the eventual game-winning threat, with two runs for 21 yards and a screen pass that picked up 15 yards before Mike Nugent lined up for the game winning 43-yard field goal to win the game.
It Was The Age Of Wisdom... No, it was the birth of wisdom, or perhaps the rebirth. For months we've argued that there has to be an incredible level of patience from Bengals fans.
Even if the Bills expanded their scoring deficit in the second half, it was still important for Bengals fans to be patient on the product developing on the field, no matter how much it was disintegrating at times.
It Was The Age Of Foolishness... Yet, pulling Andy Dalton after the first half seemed like a good idea at the time. Now that's feeling like a fool and proud that I couldn't be proven wrong once against about Andy Dalton and his ability to mature and grow as the game unfolds.
In the end two things happened; a feeling similar to Cincinnati's 24-19 win over the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs in 2003 and a sense of newness, confirmation of rebirth. There's a feeling similar to Cincinnati's 24-22 loss the Broncos, that no matter how out the Bengals appeared, they reel the fishing rod in and make every effort for a comeback. It nearly happened against the Broncos, but it became much more satisfying against the Bills.