The Bengals came to play on Saturday as they jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. This is a must-win game for Cincinnati to keep their playoff hopes alive. If they lose, they're pretty much done but if they win, there's still hope. Both the offense and defense played strong in the first quarter and even with the usual second-quarter struggles, the Bengals have managed to maintain a lead.
Here's how the first half played out.
The Bengals won the coin toss and elected to defer to the Cardinals. The Cardinals ran three plays, picking up a first down in the process, but on the fourth play, John Skelton, who is starting for Kevin Kolb, dropped back and threw an interception to middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Bengals started on a short field and moved the ball 17 yards on five plays but were stopped on third down. Mike Nugent came in and gave the Bengals a three-point lead after making a 24-yard field goal.
The Cardinals were unable to do anything on offense throughout the first half. They were able to pick up a first down or two but in their next three possessions, they were stopped and forced to punt the ball away. After the first punt, the Bengals were able to drive down the field 49 yards on five plays, after starting on another short field. From the 11-yard line, Andy Dalton scrambled left and found tight end Jermaine Gresham running towards the sideline in the end zone. Dalton got Gresham the ball and the Bengals scored the first touchdown of the game.
On the next two drives, the Bengals were able to move the ball over 100 yards but were unable to score any points. Even though the defense kept forcing the Cardinals to punt, the Bengals offense was coming up empty. Mike Nugent missed two field goals (he had only missed two up to this point in the season), one from 35 yards and one from 48 yards.
The Bengals still led the Cardinals 10-0 when John Skelton threw his second interception, this time to cornerback Nate Clements. The Bengals got the ball back and ended their scoreless streak. They were marching down the field against the Cardinals when Dalton found Jerome Simpson wide open in the flat from the 19-yard line. Simpson streaked up the left sideline and just as he was going to be hit at the goal line, he literally jumped up, flipped in the air over the Cardinals defender, and landed on his feet in the end zone. It was like something you would usually see in Cirque du Soliel.
The Bengals forced the Cardinals to punt again as the two minute warning approached. Thanks to a few great passes from Dalton and a couple tough running plays and a pass interference penalty, the Bengals got the ball on the one-yard line with just seconds left in the half. Unfortunately, Dalton was sacked and the Bengals were forced to settle for a 41-yard field goal try with only four seconds left. Nugent shook off the two misses and put this one through, giving the Bengals a 20-0 lead at half time.
The Bengals can't let off the gas in the second half. They need to keep pouring it on through the third and fourth quarters to make sure they get the win and move on to Week 17 with a chance to play for the playoffs against the Ravens.