The clock was ticking and the Cincinnati Bengals were on the verge of an explosive win, led by the rookie duo of domination between the special talent of A.J. Green and cool Red, the general in training surgically tearing apart the opposing defense in the second half. With 3:09 left in the final period, down by two points on fourth down, the Bengals were forced into a decision; should they go for it or attempt a 53-yard field goal attempt?
Cincinnati choose to go for it and unlike the feelings of my cowriter, it was the absolute right call. Now it's sort of a meaningless point of view, simply because when something doesn't work, the other choice that wasn't chosen must have been the right one. If Nugent misses the 53-yard field goal, do the same amount of fans think they should have gone for it?
While you could argue that the play-call itself was a bad one, banking too much on a defensive end's reaction rather than something simpler, the Bengals made the right call going for it on fourth-and-one.
And I have four reasons why.
+ Bengals had offensive momentum. Not two possessions before had Red surgically placed a well thrown pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson in perfect stride, picking up 84 yards. Aware of Green's tremendous talent differential over the players defending him, two plays later, Red purposely threw a jump pass into Green's hands, who practically floated momentarily to get his left toe in-bounds for the touchdown. That's the type of talent, fully on display Sunday, this offense can use to pick up one measly yard.
This offense wasn't just moving. They were on a roll, with enough momentum that it seemed that they could score from any spot on the field. Dalton posted 280 yards passing in the second half and even the rushing offense was averaging over four yards per carry in the fourth quarter.
Taking advantage of that would have caused a domino effect that could have assure a better chance to win the game. Granted they didn't. While Robert Ayers didn't play off the fake during Jay Gruden's call to roll Dalton out, you could argue that it wasn't so much the execution as it was the call, which was a bigger risk than the actual decision to go for it.
It's one yard, though. One measly yard.
We're not talking about a first half offense that failed to convert three consecutive three-and-one attempts. We're talking about an offense that was averaging 6.9 yards per play. One yard. Did anyone think that the momentum the team was surfing at the time, that they couldn't pick up one yard? This offense posted five plays of 22 yards or more in the second half alone.
How couldn't Marvin Lewis and Gruden feel confident that their young enthusiastic players wouldn't pick up one yard during an explosive second half?
+ Conversion Seriously Reduces Another Broncos Possession. Consider for a moment that if the Bengals converted that fourth down, the offense has control for another set of downs. That's three more minutes the offense can play with to milk the clock. Even if they were choosing to go conservative for an eventual Mike Nugent field goal, the team can get closer and by the time they attempt the kick, a big chuck of whatever time remained in the fourth quarter is gone.
+ No Guarantee They'd Get It Back Without Another Deficit. Denver did two things against the Bengals on Sunday. They ran the ball well and scored on big plays. Even if the Bengals attempted a field goal from 53 yards out and converted, Denver now has time to milk the clock and kick a game-winning field goal.
Denver might not be New England on offense, but Denver produced two scoring plays of 25 yards or more. And three minutes is plenty of time to move downfield, kill the clock for their own game-winning field goal.
+ A 53-Yard Field Goal Is No Guarantee. And finally, we're assuming that a 53-yard field goal is a sure-thing, even though it was being played with an elevation of over 5,000 feet. Hell, we know that Mike Nugent has the leg to make that distance at Paul Brown Stadium, much less needing that thin Denver air. However Nugent has only converted 38.5% of all 50-yard field goal attempts in his career. So the kick wasn't anymore of a sure-thing than going for it on fourth down.
As one can only imagine, his percentage significantly improves the closer he gets, making 67.7% of his field goals between 40-49. Converting on the fourth down assures a significantly higher chance to kick and convert a game-winning field goal.
+ Hindsight and all of that. It just ended up not working out and the Bengals lost going for it. Even if they had gone for it, they still need a good snap and hold and the best line drive Nugent could offer. Sure, it's makeable for Nugent -- he's done it 38.5% of the time.