Cincinnati's 24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is often remembered as the moment that captured the Bengals 2010 season. If we were to do a video montage with 80s rock music (whatever you do, do not click here!) that summarized the team's season, you could feature the last three minutes of this game.
With a 21-14 lead and 2:28 left in the game, Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called a pass for Carson Palmer, needing 13 yards to convert the third down. Tampa Bay was already out of timeouts and a simple dive up the gut would have brought the game to the two minute warning. A punt from the Bengals 38-yard line, with Kevin Huber's leg, could have forced Tampa Bay to go, at the very least 70 yards for a touchdown. How many times have we seen that scenario end with a turnover on downs or an ill-advised pass to force a completion with the clock pressuring the losing team to make a play?
That would be the absolute opposite of what Bratkowski had in mind.
Terrell Owens lines up wide right at the Bengals 38-yard line, with Caldwell in the slot. Palmer takes the shotgun snaps and sits comfortably in the pocket with Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth easily holding off the edge rushers. Caldwell's route takes him to the 50-yard line and hooks, about a yard short of the first down. Owens snaps at the 45-yard line and cuts inward, briefly stumbling as if the turf gave out. If Palmer hits Owens in stride, the pass is completed and the Bengals pick up the first down, sealing the win without any Tampa Bay timeouts.
Unfortunately, Palmer's pass was a tick behind Owens, who brought his hands up, receiving the football rather passively. Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib, far more aggressively, jumps the route from behind Owens and picks off the pass.
At the very least, the Bengals could have milked the clock to the two minute warning and punted after one of those runs late in the game where not even Elmer the rodent believed was a serious attempt at a first down.
Palmer had a provided his thoughts.
"I don’t think we’d run that play yet. As I said before, we were just a little bit off all game. When you’re playing teams in this league, those little mistakes can turn into big ones. That turned into an interception which ended up tying the game. We’re not going to beat people playing like that."
"I don’t know that everything was a little bit off. I think we just have to go beyond, and that’s the important part. We have 11 parts on each play, and not all of them are going to be perfect, but we ought to be able to overcome it and make it a positive outcome each and every time."
Ultimately, Lewis takes the blame, saying:
"I wanted to be aggressive. I put us in that situation, but I think we’ve got to play football that way. You can’t play scared," Lewis said after the game.
You're not playing scared with a seven-point lead, two-and-a-half minutes left in the game and Tampa Bay having already expired their timeouts. You're playing smart. S-M-R-T! Sure. We understand the aggressiveness by the Bengals, but at no point have the Bengals shown to be successful when making high risk plays in 2010.
Fine. What's done is done. Defense. Step up. Your turn. Tampa Bay is at mid-field with 2:18 left in the game. Just prevent the touchdown and the game that should have been won a possession ago still can be. Josh Freeman completes three of his next four passes for 30 yards setting up a first-and-ten at the Bengals 20-yard line with 1:34 left in the game.
Two receivers wide left and rookie Mike Williams lines up wide right. Johnathan Joseph covers. Josh Freeman takes the shotgun snap, comfortable in the pocket with the Buccaneers neutralizing the Bengals four-man rush. After the fourth tick click off in Freeman's head, he tosses the football down the right sidelines. Williams is already beating Joseph by half-a-step as they enter the endzone. The pass, slightly under thrown, floated more like a hope and a prayer than a missile of precision. Williams turns, out-jumps Joseph and Chinedum Ndukwe, who supports Joseph a step too late.
A PAT later and the Buccaneers tied the game. We're pretty sure at this point Raheem Morris sends Bratkowski The Simpson's fourth season DVD box set while the Buccaneers head coach points towards wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe while Marvin Lewis glares from across the field. Alright, so Morris probably isn't that deliciously evil but we're fairly certain that he's thanking the Bengals for the early Christmas present.
With 1:21 left in the game, now the Bengals have to score points. Realistically, there's enough time for a leg like Mike Nugent to convert a 50-yard attempt. A 29-yard Terrell Owens reception on first down kicks off the drive, building the confidence, a strut from the team with a purpose, victory in sight, ready to pull the victory from the clutches... Palmer throws another interception. Awesome.
With :25 seconds left in the game at the Bengals own 47-yard line, Carson Palmer takes the shotgun snap, does his I-am-nervous-about-getting-hit hop in the pocket while at the right hashmarks. He tries to squeeze a pass into Terrell Owens with Tampa Bay playing Cover Two and the cornerbacks playing man coverage on the wide outs.
The pass itself was a good one, hitting Owens in stride on a flat slant or lazy in-route. The deflected football off of Owens' hands is plucked from the air by Buccaneers safety Sabby Piscitelli, who returns the football 31 yards. After a 21-yard completion to Michael Spurlock, the Buccaneers won the game on a 31-yard Conner Barth field goal.
Things went downhill after that. Adam Jones was arrested for driving his silver Jaguar onto a sidewalk near Great American Ballpark. Even though he was reportedly combative and belligerent during the arrest, he was eventually released after a witness corroborated Jones' story that he was merely trying to avoid a collision. It was announced several days later that Antwan Odom, who was recently put into a brace after injuring his knee, will be serving a four-game suspension.
Yea. It was that bad of a loss when it shouldn't have been a loss at all.