Critical Third Down Conversions In The Fourth Quarter Stage Bengals Upset Win

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Mike Nugent #2 of the Cincinnati Bengals kicks the game winning field goal during the NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won 23-20.(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Entering Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals were trending on terrible with third down conversions. Yes, yes. It's one of those beating Barbaro habits we get into (read: Palmer, Carson). But this time it's relevant. Against the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati's offense converted only two of their previous 21 third down opportunities. As the definition of obviousness goes, one of our pregame keys dictated that if the Bengals were to beat the Bills top-three offense, they'd have to convert third downs at the very least to keep the Bills off the field.

At the end of the day, the Bengals converted 42% (5/12) of their third down opportunities, including two critical conversions in the fourth quarter that put Mike Nugent into position to convert the game-winning field goal.

Quarter Conversion 3rd Down Att. 3rd Down Conv.
1st 25% 4 1
2nd 50% 4 2
3rd 0% 1 0
4th 67% 3 2

With 6:16 remaining in the game, the Cincinnati Bengals lined up on Buffalo's 33-yard line with eight yards needed for a first down. Andy Dalton sat in shotgun with Brian Leonard flanking his right. Outside of Andre Smith, Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham fired out of his three-point stance as Kyle Cook snapped the football. Defensive back Bryan Scott tried taking away Gresham's inside, which suited the tight end, allowing a free release outside after a ten-yard vertical. Dalton dropped the beautiful pass into Gresham's hands as the tight end turned upfield to complete the 17-yard reception.

Three plays later Andy Dalton walked into the end zone untouched after the offense spread the defense out with five threats along the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati tied the game with just over four minutes remaining.

Cincinnati's defense acted like water in the gas tank, stalling out Buffalo's offense with a four-play, 17-yard drive into a punt. And yet the Bengals were firing on all cylinders by this point.

After a Jerome Simpson 17-yard reception and a Brian Leonard seven-yard run (and incomplete), the offense needed three yards to convert a third down with only 52 seconds remaining in the game. With intense pressure up the middle and good coverage downfield, Dalton scrambles to his right finding daylight towards the right sidelines. As he dives and stretches out his hands for the first down marker, Dalton is knocked out of bounds by defensive lineman Marcell Dareus at a spot that appeared at least a full yard shy of the first down. After the booth reviewed the play, the officials changed the location beyond the first down marker, thus converting another big third down.

Now with 45 seconds remaining at their own 46-yard line, Dalton dumps off a screen pass to Brian Leonard, who avoids a Bryan Scott ankle tackle while Kyle Cook and Clint Boling wiped out two defenders initially with opportunities to make the stop if either offensive linemen missed their assignments. From the 39-yard line and only 36 seconds remaining in the game, the Bengals didn't want to rely on Mike Nugent converting a 56-yard field goal to win the game. So what the hell. Let's hand the ball off to Brian Leonard on a running back draw out of shotgun formation. Jermaine Gresham easily blocked Shawne Merriman out, opening the running lane for Brian Leonard to squeeze through, avoiding an attempted ankle tackle by defensive back Bryan Scott and picking up 14 yards on the run.

Cincinnati used their second time out with only four seconds remaining in the game, which was soon after won on a Mike Nugent 43-yard conversion as time expired.

Though Nugent's field goal and Brian Leonard's 36 yards from scrimmage during Cincinnati's final possession were critical to stage the upset, the Bengals picking up third downs on Dalton's scramble and Gresham's 17-yard reception during Cincinnati's game-tying touchdown dramatically enabled the Bengals to win due to those conversions. Those conversions don't happen and were not so certain the Bengals have an opportunity to win the game.

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