On fourth-and-one from Denver's 36-yard line with 3:09 left in the game, the Bengals, who were trailing the Broncos by a score of 24-22, decided to go for it instead of kicking a 53-yard field goal. Dalton took the snap and faked a handoff to Cedric Benson, who was running to the left side. The play-action fake didn't work, though. Defensive end Robert Ayers didn't buy the fake and was on top of Dalton before the quarterback could even turn his head to find his target, rookie wide receiver A.J. Green. Dalton tried to get rid of the ball, throwing an incomplete pass, turning the ball over on downs.
The Bengals didn't get the ball back until there were only 2:25 left on the clock on their own five yard line. They turned the ball over on downs again with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, ending the game.
Had Marvin Lewis decided to let Mike Nugent kick a long field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-one, the Bengals could have defeated the Broncos by one point.
Of course hindsight is 20/20 and this is one of those decisions that make coaches look like geniuses or idiots. Had the Bengals gotten the first down, we would be talking about how gutsy of a call that was and how smart Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden were. Had they tried to kick a field goal and Nugent missed, we'd be calling them stupid. That's just how it is.
However, this was a no brain decision, in my opinion. Mike Nugent's career long field goal in a regular season game is from 54 yards away. This kick was roughly from the same distance and would have been kicked in Denver's Mile High Stadium, where the lighter atmosphere could add a few feet to a kick.
Nugent has kicked five field goals in the regular season, including one from 47 yards, and he's made all five. Four of his five field goals went through the uprights this preseason, including one from 55 yards. There was really no reason that Marvin Lewis shouldn't have trusted his kicker to win the game for the team in that situation.
There was reason for Lewis not to trust his offense to get a first down, though. The Bengals had been terrible on third down throughout the game and had failed to pick up a first down on three straight third-and-one plays earlier in the game. Yes, Dalton looked impressive but the running game never got on its feet and the offensive line was making a Broncos defense that gave up over 190 yards on the ground against the Raiders the previous week look much better than they really were. Compared to a 53-yard field goal, going for it on fourth down seemed way too risky -- and it was.
That's why the Bengals should have kicked the field goal. If they had, we could have been celebrating a win instead of talking about how impressive they looked even though they lost. Of course that one decision alone didn't lose the game for the team. Their inability to do anything on offense in the first half and the defense's terrible play against the run early and the pass later can also be blamed, but Lewis' decision to not kick a possible game-winning field goal was just as big of a reason as the others.