For the less inclined, domination is the act of dominating. Simple as that. When you think of domination, think of a younger Tiger Woods against the field. Maybe Roger Federer, pre Rafael Nadal. Shaquille O'Neal during his prime. Wayne Gretzky. Nolan Ryan against Robin Ventura. Or maybe even Mike Brown against the city of Cincinnati. Domination is often a bi-product of high intensity competition that turns a bit lop-sided. Sometimes it just doesn't happen that way. Sometimes a team or a player has the number of a particular opponent.
Peyton Manning's domination of the Cincinnati Bengals is traumatic and expansive. During his first six games against Cincinnati, Manning has thrown 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions; the last coming in 2005 by Keiwan Ratliff. With a career 113.7 quarterback rating against the Bengals, it's not surprising that Manning was a perfect 6-0 from 1998 through 2008, averaging 35.3 points/game. And during his previous three meetings against Cincinnati, Manning's passer rating improves to 125.7 with a 10-1 touchdown to interception ratio.
Then the Cincinnati Bengals met the Colts in Indianapolis on November 14, 2010.
With 2:37 left in the first quarter, the Indianapolis Colts mounted a 3-0 lead thanks to a 14-play drive that stalled after an impressive breakup by Dhani Jones on a third down pass to Jacob Tamme at the Bengals five-yard line. Nine yards to go from their own 23-yard line, the Bengals lineup in single-back formation with Terrell Owens flanked wide right and Jordan Shipley in the slot. Carson Palmer completes his five-step drop with the Colts rushing four in a Cover Two zone. From the onset, Palmer watches Terrell Owens' route develop to his right. Owens pushed out around the 30-yard line, taking off for a lazy fade route. Problem is that Palmer expected Owens to break out. Palmer threw to the spot where he expected Owens to be, finding Kelvin Hayden patiently waiting on the pass. Seconds later, the defensive back completed the interception with a 31-yard touchdown return.
On the very first play during the ensuing Bengals possession from their own 22-yard line, Carson Palmer hands off to Cedric Benson, patiently waiting for his lane to open, his moment to accelerate, burying unsuspecting defensive players in an orgy of domination... fumble. With the football in hand, Benson stretches to his left, finding a cutback lane and redirecting to the right when linebacker Phillip Wheeler wrapped Benson somewhat unexpectedly, punching the football out in the process. For the love of Mary.
The Colts would score a touchdown after the fumble, giving them a 17-0 lead. While we never want to take anything away from Indianapolis, it's not like the Bengals offense has really helped their own cause here. We're bleeding points here.
Mustering a field goal on the following possession, the Bengals offense finally found some rhythm midway through the second quarter, sustaining a nine-play drive that setup a second-and-two at the Colts five-yard line. Nothing fantasy about the single-back double tight end formation with Jermaine Gresham and Reggie Kelly grouped to the right. Palmer fakes the handoff up the middle, goes through his progressions while rushed into a decision with Keyunta Dawson's inside step knocking Andrew Whitworth momentarily off-balance. Rolling out to his left, Palmer locks onto Chad Ochocinco, running midway into the endzone and breaking out. The pass, perfect. Ochocinco's form, even better. Keeping his toes in the blue, Chad's hands reached out, snagged the pass as his entire body falls limp to the ground. Touchdown. Old school Chad reception.
The attempted comeback was on. Rather than suffering a 17-point deficit and feeling sorry for themselves, the team began recovering to close the gap. Until Peyton Manning engineered a 10-play drive that resulted in a 47-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal during the final minute of the half. Alright. So a ten-point deficit is still better than the feeling they felt during a 17-point deficit following a pick-six and a Cedric Benson fumble that led to a Colts touchdown.
Both teams exchanged punts throughout the third quarter, during a battle of field position until 11:21 remained in the fourth quarter. The Bengals appeared to be re-gaining some momentum, picking up 23 yards on seven plays, setting up a third-and-seven from their own 37-yard line. Palmer stands in shotgun with Terrell Owens flanked wide left and Jordan Shipley in the slot. Brian Leonard and Jermaine Gresham flank Palmer in the backfield. After some pointing, shouting and instructing, the quarterback receives the snap and feels pressure up the middle were there really wasn't any. Shifting slightly to the right, Palmer tries to squeeze a spiral into the loving embrace of linebacker Tyjuan Hagler with defensive back Hayden completing a sandwich on Jermaine Gresham around the Bengals 45-yard line. Hagler jumped the route, easily picking off the pass as he speeds down the left sidelines. If not for Palmer successfully tripping Hagler around the Bengals 10-yard line, the linebacker would have easily scored a touchdown. Instead the Colts were forced to convert a field goal, giving them a 23-10 lead after two minimal runs and an incomplete Manning pass.
Again the Bengals appeared to be gathering momentum. Again I would totally jinx said momentum. With 5:59 left in the game and six yards to go on second down, Carson Palmer's tunnel vision allowed only one receiver on the field, forcing a pass into a triangle of Colts defenders. Yet it really wasn't Palmer's fault. Owens' lazily breaks out of his cut, turning inside. Because the route was so lackadaisical, Palmer's throw was well ahead of Owens; if running at full speed, the pass would have been perfect. Owens completed the route by watching Aaron Francisco catch the errant pass for his third interception of the game. Where's your popcorn now, Owens?
After going three-and-out with the Bengals expiring their final timeout, Cincinnati once again try to push down the field. This time they actually did, with Palmer completing five of eight passes for 73 yards. Four of those passes were Jermaine Gresham receptions, posting 57 yards receiving, including the touchdown that brought the Bengals to within six points. First down on the Colts 19-yard line, Gresham fires from his stance out of the left slot, stretching the field with a vertical route down the left hashmarks. The pass, perfect. With the Colts surrounding the Bengals tight end at four points like a diamond, all roughly five yards from the rookie, Gresham hauls in the pass and goes untouched into the endzone. Down by six points, Gresham flips the football to the referee, receives a handshake and jogs off the field.
With no timeouts remaining and just over two minutes left in the game, the Bengals went for the onside kick, lining six to the left and four on the right. Only two Colts players on the hands team hovered anywhere near the hashmarks. Nugent faked left, stopped, and redirected the kick down the right hashmarks. After your typical scrum for the bouncing football, the Bengals recover the football.
Yes. We're on. Ready to score again. Win this game. Beat those blasted Colts for the first time since 1997. Game on. From the Colts 40-yard line, Palmer begins to maliciously stare down defenders, playing out the result in his mind as if he were the protagonist of an awesome Kung-Fu movie with traditional Chinese pellet drums playing with absolutely no known rhythm whatsoever. Cracking his knuckles, narrowing his eyes, the Bengals quarterback drills Gresham underneath. The six-foot-forever tight end takes punishing hit after punishing hit, laughing with a mouthful of blood just before he, well, fumbles. As he's falling to the turf at the Bengals 45-yard line, Dwight Freeney punches the football out that Mike Newton recovers.
With :46 seconds remaining and after the Colts go three-and-out, Carson Palmer lines up at the Bengals 21-yard line. It was over before it even began. Robert Mathis lines up on the left side, forces Dennis Roland to lose his balance by leaning forward, sacking the quarterback for a six-yard loss. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Quickly setting back to the line of scrimmage, Dwight Freeney bullrushed Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, whose feet began to slide as if the surface were made of ice, into Carson Palmer for the second sack in as many plays. Chad Ochocinco dropped the final play of the game.
Repercussions: Peyton Manning and the Colts narrowly missed their first loss the Bengals, largely because Cincinnati turned the football over five times (fifth time in the past ten seasons the Bengals have done that). And since 2005, teams with a plus-five turnover ratio were 41-1 heading into this game. Might as well add one more.