BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 20: Jimmy Smith #22 of the Baltimore Ravens returns an interception against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 31-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
The Bengals were only three points behind the Ravens, who were leading by a score of 17-14 late in the third quarter. Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense took the field and after a couple of Bernard Scott runs, Jay Gruden decided to call a pass play.
Andy Dalton dropped back, looked Andre Caldwell's way and threw the ball. The pass was intercepted by Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' first-round pick from the 2011 draft. As he was returning the ball towards the Bengals end zone, Jerome Simpson caught up with him and punched the ball out of his arms from behind. Bengals and Ravens jumped in a pile to recover the fumble and after players were pulled off of each other, the Ravens had possession on the Bengals two-yard line. Ray Rice scored a touchdown on the very next play.
There is more than one person that deserves the blame for this play. After watching game film over and over again, here's a second look at Dalton's second interception of the game.
Andy Dalton was in the shotgun with Bernard Scott to his left. Jerome Simpson was wide left with Andrew Hawkins in the slot. Caldwell was lined up wide right with Jermaine Gresham lined up as the slot receiver.
When Dalton took the snap, Smith was playing up on the line and waiting to make contact with Caldwell. Caldwell was just about to make his break to run a slant and when Smith made contact with him, which was within five yards of the line of scrimmage. As soon as Caldwell made contact with Smith, he just stopped. The pass, was going to where Caldwell should have been but instead it went right to where Smith was standing.
Had Caldwell not stopped, the pass could have been a completion, or at least an incomplete pass, instead of an interception.
It's fairly clear to see that Caldwell stopped on his route which was part of the reason Jimmy Smith was able to intercept the pass.
At the same time, Dalton could have looked elsewhere for a target. Hawkins ran a quick out when the ball was snapped and Jerome Simpson took both his and Hawkins' man with him. Hawkins was wide open with a few yards to run had Dalton thrown him a quick pass. Instead, he threw into tight coverage to an inconsistant receiver.
Tate, at the bottom of the screen, was about five yards from the closest defender. He may not have gotten a first down but the pass wouldn't have been intercepted.
In the end, you can blame both Caldwell and Dalton for the interception. Jimmy Smith was well within his right to make contact with Caldwell as he was within five yards of the line of scrimmage and even though the ball was in the air when Smith and Caldwell were still in contact, Smith didn't do anything that would have consisted of either pass interference or defensive holding.
Simpson did a great job and showed great effort when he punched the ball out of Smith's hands and it was unfortunate that the Bengals didn't recover. Rice's two-yard touchdown on the next play was the first touchdown to put the Bengals down in a hole that they would ultimately be unable to climb out of.