The Pittsburgh Steelers exploded out of the gate with a 14-point lead Sunday following Rashard Mendenhall's two-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. At this point in the game Cincinnati's offense posted consecutive three and outs and this writer wrote "we are in fu@#ing trouble." During Cincinnati's third possession, Bernard Scott gained five yards on consecutive plays setting up a third and five from the Bengals 26-yard line. A failed conversion and the Bengals could punt. Based on Pittsburgh's momentum, a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter would likely be fatal. To borrow a phrase from the Fellowship of the Ring monologue, the third down conversion was "picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable."
With 2:21 remaining in the first quarter, Andy Dalton setup in shotgun with an empty backfield. Jerome Simpson, wide left, ran a hitch behind the first down marker while Andrew Hawkins, in the left slot, ran a corner route towards the left sidelines. Kyle Cook snaps the football and defensive end Brett Keisel stunts from his right defensive end position, targeting the center of the offensive line. The penetration got through and Andy Dalton released the football quick enough, targeting Hawkins' corner route.
With six-time Pro Bowl safety and former defensive MVP Troy Polamalu in coverage, Hawkins tracked the floater, stretching his out his body to haul in the 25-yard reception.
Hawkins' reception (and effort) not only converted the third down, but it led to this week's Mini Couple Power Play of the Game.
Three plays later the Cincinnati Bengals lined up at Pittsburgh's 36-yard line with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It was second and eight when Andy Dalton lined up I-formation with A.J. Green wide left. After lazily faking the handoff to Bernard Scott, Dalton's internal clock explodes for absolutely no reason, forcing him to scramble to his left with James Harrison flying inward like an American cruise missile.
Dalton throws the football deep, aiming for the left upright in the endzone. A.J. Green shifts underneath the football and Superman's over Ryan Clark and Polamalu for the touchdown. [Note for some of you naive comic book folks -- Superman originally didn't fly, he just jumped great distances]. Though this was the play that A.J. Green hurt his knee, it was perhaps the biggest play of the game.
Aside from the Bengals cutting the 14-point deficit in half, it gave the team confidence and momentum, surely firing up the defense, who would go on to marginalize Pittsburgh's offense to 10 points for the remaining 45 minutes in the game. We did feature Andrew Hawkins' first down reception largely because if that excellent play doesn't take place, the touchdown doesn't either. And since both plays were respectively huge, it makes sense to feature both.