We appreciate symbolism as much as anyone. What's the impact of a specific game, or an event with a lasting expression? Cincinnati's 27-26 win over the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 was one, initiating a memorable fourth quarter comeback that announced Carson Palmer's arrival to the big stage. These games are categorically organized in our obsessive memories. Though the games themselves were as important as any during any given season, the symbolism featured greater emphasis in some cases.
In 2011 the Bengals were supposed to be a pretty mess. Palmer demanded a trade out of Cincinnati and until that happened, he was in retirement-mode. Cincinnati traded away the best wide receiver in franchise history. More significantly, the team was coming off a four-win season, rebuilt with rookies during an offseason that the NFL lockout prevented offseason coaching. What could the Bengals possibly do to exist on a stage greater than re-building?
When Bills running back Fred Jackson scored a two-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining in the first half, it leveled the 1-2 Cincinnati Bengals into a 14-point deficit against a team best defined as the early-season Cinderella story. Further compounding the 14-point half time deficit was that it was against a team that the Cincinnati Bengals haven't beaten since the 1988 AFC Conference Championship game, victims of ten straight losses over the span of 23 years. The Cincinnati Bengals that we've known so long typically closed shop during such deficits against historical odds. But the squad in 2011, the one that set the stage for how Cincinnati would be built today, wasn't like those teams at all.
Cincinnati received the second half kickoff, starting from their own 20-yard line. A Cedric Benson 28-yard run and an A.J. Green 40-yard reception put the Bengals inside the Bills three-yard line. Unable to score a touchdown, Mike Nugent converted the 21-yard field goal and now the 14-point deficit was reduced to 11 points.
After a defensive three-and-out by the Bills offense, the Bengals went 72 yards on seven plays, capped by a 17-yard touchdown reception by Jermaine Gresham. Two third quarter possessions, 10 points scored on 150 yards of offense. Buffalo answered with a field goal, distancing their advantage slightly to 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, but the god of momentum shined his bucktooth on the Cincinnati Bengals this day.
The Bengals would score ten points in the fourth quarter, won by Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal as time expired, giving Cincinnati the 23-20 win over the Bills. Along with the incredible comeback of scoring 20 points in the second half, the Bengals defeated an opponent they haven't beaten in 23 years and proving that this really isn't the same Cincinnati Bengals squad we've seen for so long before.
This was the new Cincinnati Bengals.