PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: Bruce Gradkowski #7 of the Cincinnati Bengals drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half during the game on December 4, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
After winning the opening coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Cincinnati Bengals opened the third quarter on offense with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback, Aaron Brown at running back and a combination of Colin Cochart and Orson Charles at tight end. On the offensive line we have Anthony Collins at left tackle, Dennis Roland at left guard, Trevor Robinson at center, Otis Hudson at right guard and Matthew O'Donnell at right tackle.
It started out as a struggle.
A missed Cochart block on first and ten against Spencer Atkins opened a lane to stuff Aaron Brown at the line, allowing defensive lineman Vance Walker to shed off Dennis Roland's block to complete the tackle. On second down with over 14 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Gradkowski takes the shotgun snap and looks to dump off the pass to Aaron Brown. Defensive lineman Travian Robertson knocks down the pass at the line of scrimmage, setting up third and nine from Cincinnati's 41-yard line.
Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury gears up in a two-point stance on the left side of the Falcons defensive line, outside Colin Cochart and Matthew O'Donnell.
Sidbury's speed and O'Donnell's overall lack of quickness allows the defensive end to turn the corner, pressuring Bruce Gradkowski to step into the pocket.
It was a blessing in disguise. After stepping into the pocket, the "Red Sea parted" (his quote, note mine) and Gradkowski exploded like an Olympic sprinter (minus the Olympic part).
The quarterback picked up 31 yards on the play, putting Cincinnati at Atlanta's 28-yard line. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wanted to use Marvin Jones on the successive play, in a fashion besides as a receiver. Jones flanked right with tight end Orson Charles in motion from the right.
The end-around to Jones largely worked because the Atlanta Falcons defenders bit so hard on Aaron Brown fake up the middle.
Jones wouldn't be touched until reaching the first down marker, picking up 16 yards on the play.
After a no-yard gain by Aaron Brown on first down, the Bengals setup from the Falcons 12-yard line on second down with 12:01 remaining in the third quarter. Receiver Mohamed Sanu flanks wide right with Dominique Franks covering.
Aaron Brown is to Gradkowski's right, flairs out into the flats after the football is snapped. While Sanu is heading for the endzone, Franks decides to move in for the kill on Brown, as if he knew that the running back was the primary target.
We're not sure if that was by design or Franks taking on the initiative. Perhaps safety Chris Hope was supposed to provide single-coverage on the receiver, or just provide help in the end zone. Either way it's a breakdown on Atlanta's end with Sanu jogging into the end zone uncontested (think A.J. Green, Cleveland Browns, week one, 2011, fourth quarter). Gradkowski eased the football into the end zone to give Cincinnati the 17-13 lead with over 12 minutes remaining.