With roughly eight and a half minutes left in the game, I didn't think the Bengals would pull this one out. Palmer had just been sacked completing the Bengals fifth three and out of the game (six total). Cincinnati had only gained 13 yards in the second half and had given up an interception, punt, fumble, punt and punt. It was pretty hopeless. Palmer's fourth sack of the second half, as the clock struck 8:16 in the fourth, seemed like the dagger to the heart.
Then my man, the beast from Tusculum College, Ricardo Colclough, muffs a punt; the moment this game changed. The Bengals' Tony Stewart picked up the ball at the Pittsburgh nine-yard line. On the first snap, T.J. Houshmandzadeh found a gapping hole in the Steelers secondary and caught Palmer's pitch over the middle. The Pittsburgh defense was, well; I'm not sure where they were.
On the next possession, with the Bengals leading 21-17, Willie Parker ran for six yards to the right, stood up, and jogged to the sidelines. The legendary Vernon Haynes came in, promptly took the handoff and then promptly fumbled the football. On the first play after the turnover, Palmer hung a deep pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- who promptly hauls down the touchdown pass.
In a span of one football minute - out of 60 - I went from "game over" to losing five pounds running in circles for nine real-life minutes (5 football seconds). Now if you ask Bill Cowher, "Who-Dey", interrupt his DirectTV commercial tirade and say, "It ain't you".
Bengals won, 28-20; though it really didn't seem like it. The Bengals played the role of opportunist, and played it well. When the Steelers gave it up, the Bengals scored. When the Steelers threatened the Bengals defense in the red-zone, our boys stiffened up. It was a showing of grit and heart by both teams. The Steelers did what they did best; control the clock and the running game. The Bengals did what they do best; take things away. The offense did their best to lose this game at times while the defense stepped aside from Willie Parker.
But in the end, this team won when they normally lose. Playing the role of closers, they trashed all the bad that happened from their memories and pulled out enough to steal one. If this were the Bengals pre-Marvin Lewis, we would have lost. But being AFC North Champions, we're winning games we're not supposed to. I'll definitely take it.
TWO FOR TWO
In the first half, Chris Henry caught two touchdown passes. In the second half, T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught two touchdown passes. Combined, Henry and Houshmandzadeh caught 14 passes for 163 yards and all four touchdowns.
THE MISSING TWO
Ironically, the two star receivers on both teams - Chad Johnson and Hines Ward - caught three passes 28 yards. Chad: 1-10. Ward: 2-17.
STAT THAT'S MOST MISLEADING
Willie Parker would have clearly been the game's M.V.P. if the Steelers had won. Parker ran 31 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. I can't recall the last time a team had a running back with those numbers and still lose. Thanks Ricardo Colclough.
THE FIRST HALF 1:08 DRILL
With 2:45 left in the first half, Pittsburgh was methodically driving the ball to create a situation where they could kill the clock and score before half-time. The offense reached Cincinnati's 25-yard line and handed off to Willie Parker for a two-yard gain. Justin Smith tipped a pass on second down establishing a third-and-eight at the Cincinnati 23-yard line. The 23-yard line would be the closest they'd see of the Bengals red-zone. On third down Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for about two hours finally getting dumped by Robert Geathers. Jeff Reed set up for a 48-yard field goal.
DID YOU KNOW: The last player to block a Bengals field goal was John Thornton while he played with the Tennessee Titans on October 8th, 2000 at Paul Brown Stadium. The last player to block a field goal for the Bengals is, John Thornton; blocking Josh Brown's field goal during the Bengals 27-24 win on October 26th, 2003.
With 1:13 left in the first half, Jeff Reed confirms he's ready. The snapper initiates the play, the holder grabs the spiraling football, and Jeff Reed kicks the football. Three yards travel time later, the ball floats and barely crosses the end-zone; much less the goal post. As soon as the ball crossed the line of scrimmage, John Thornton turned around and had his big mitt in the air knowing it wouldn't make it. Thornton's big mitt got enough of the kicked football that turned the failed field goal attempt into the Bengals 1:08 minute drill.
The offense comes onto the field with 1:08 left in the first half. In shotgun, Watson catches the shovel pass for a miniscule nine yards. Palmer completes a 21-yard pass to Chris Henry and calls timeout. With :40 left in the first half, Palmer in shotgun, tosses to T.J. Houshmandzadeh for 11. Pressed for time, the team runs to the Pittsburgh 21-yard line and Palmer spikes the ball. Then confusion forces another timeout as the play clock wound down.
On second-and-ten from the Pittsburgh 21, I thought we'd pass it to the sidelines or run to kill some clock. We were out of ways to stop the clock. But there was enough time to run, hurry up and spike the ball, and set up for the field goal. If we passed, we'd pass to the outside and surely the Steelers secondary thought that too. So in typical Bob Bratkowski fashion, his play calling surprised me - for the good. Brat called Watson's number on a draw - and was rewarded with an 18-yard run. The offense again, rushed to the three-yard line and Palmer spiked the ball.
With ten seconds left in the half, Palmer drops back. Chris Henry came off the line of scrimmage, faked an out route, and ran over the middle to catch the three-yard pass. With five seconds to spare, the Bengals offense went 62 yards on seven plays in 1:03 to take the lead.
I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY...
Thanks Ricardo Colclough.
PALMER FIRST HALF BREAK DOWN
In the first quarter, Carson Palmer threw three passes. He completed a six-yard pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, an interception to Deshea Townsend and an incomplete intended for Chris Henry. Palmer also fumbled twice - the Bengals recovered both.
In the second quarter, Palmer - if you remove the two spikes - was 12 of 12 for 131 yards and two touchdowns. On the third Bengals possession, where Cincinnati started on their own three-yard line, Palmer went eight for eight for eighty-seven yards.
THE "IT DOESN'T MATTER" FILE
Normally when you punt the ball to the opponent's three-yard line, it creates a situation where an aggressive defense can force a three-and-out. On the first two plays, with Stacey Andrews in at tight end, Rudi Johnson gained three yards. Palmer, on third-and-seven, passes to T.J. on a wide receiver screen to the left. T.J. ran for 18-yards and gained the first down. After Rudi hit the line for no gain, Palmer threw an 11-yard pass to Chad Johnson on his left. Ironically, this would be the only catch in Johnson's day. He told Peter King that he "grew up" today knowing his attention does a lot to free up the offense's other weapons.
After Johnson picked up the first, Palmer dumped off two passes to Rudi over the middle. Clearly the linebackers were taking off either blitzing or running into coverage. Rudi found a spot, on both plays, caught the pass for five yards, on both plays, and a first down.
After Bobbie Williams jumped, Palmer scrambled on first down for five yards setting up a second-and-ten. Palmer dropped back and tossed a nice 20-yard pass to Chris Henry, a short 3-yard pass to T.J. and another first down pass to Henry (nine yards). After a seven-yard run, Rudi gets stuff in the hole setting up a third-and-three at the Pittsburgh 16. On the next play, Palmer dropped back and tossed to his right. Henry caught the "fade" pass at the goal line and put the Bengals up 7-7.
This drive was awesome. After the Bengals had gone three-and-out on the first possession and an interception on the second possession, Cincinnati scored on an amazing 14-play touchdown drive that started at their own three-yard line. If you include Bobbie Williams' false start, the Bengals offense actually went 102 yards.
DRIVING ME CRAZY
You could summarize the Bengals miserable day on offense by looking at all their drives. I take nothing away from their incredibly long drive, Houshmandzadeh's 30 and nine yard touchdown receptions, or their 1:08 minute offense; all resulted in touchdowns. The Bengals went three-and-out on six drives, gained more than 10 yards on only five drives and lost yardage on two drives (last one doesn't count as Palmer kneeled to win the game). From the Bengals last touchdown in the first half to the nine-yard touchdown reception in the second half, the Bengals offense went interception, punt, fumble, punt and punt.
On the other hand, the Steelers had four drives of 11 plays or more, four drives of 50 yards or more and only three drives with single-digit yardage gains.
Goes to show you the Bengals really don't need to do much on offense to beat the Steelers.
RUNNING THE BALL
The Pittsburgh Steelers could both run the ball and stop the rush. Willie Parker rushed 31 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers will normally win every game. If you read the stat line and saw a running back carry the ball 31 times, you'd think that that running back was on the winning team.
This Bengals defensive front was embarrassing. Sam Adams was picking holes and the center would just drive him while Parker scampered in the cutback lanes. Linebackers were slipping and sliding on the field missing tackles. Madieu Williams made a lot of saves today.
I think we saw how much Odell Thurman means against a rushing offense. Brian Simmons is a sure tackler. He makes all the reads and is usually around the play. But what I remember of Thurman is an aggressiveness with monster hits if he reads the play right. He may be out of place while Simmons is usually always there, but Thurman is the type of linebacker that will hit you hard.
Would have Thurman had a better day than Simmons? I really don't know. I'm more of a Simmons fan than I am a Thurman fan. But a game like this would have been perfect for a Thurman-like attitude in the middle of the defense.
One thing that was clear was the lack of a running game by the Bengals offense. Rudi Johnson averaged 2.5 yards per carry - and all 2.5 yards were tough. It wasn't that a single Steelers defender created the havoc. There was just no room for Rudi. You'd see Rudi run right into a mass of bodies on the line of scrimmage on nearly half his runs. His longest gain of the day? Eight yards.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS
0 - Yards gained by Keiwan Ratliff after calling for a fair catch on punt return with no defenders within ten yards of him.
2 - Passes knocked down by Madieu Williams that would have been Pittsburgh touchdowns late in the game
2 - Sacks by Robert Geathers.
3 - Number of fumbles by Carson Palmer.
4 - Number of sacks, each, for the season by Robert Geathers and Justin Smith.
8 - Tackles by big-time Kevin Kaesviharn.
11 - Total passes tipped or knocked down by the Bengals defense.
18 - Combined tackles between Landon Johnson (9) and Brian Simmons (9)
PERFECT WHEN SEEING RED
- The first time the Bengals reached the red-zone, it was on the 14-play, 97-yard drive. When they got to the 16-yard line, Palmer passed to Henry for the first Bengals score.
- The second trip to the red-zone was during the 1:08 minute drill. Kenny Watson's 18-yard draw put the Bengals inside the red-zone; Chris Henry's 3-yard reception put them in the end-zone.
- It wasn't until the 7:12 mark in the fourth that the Bengals made it into the red-zone for the first time in the second half. But it was really by accident. Thanks Ricardo Colclough. On the only play of the drive, while in the red-zone, Palmer threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Whose-Your-Momma.
I WOULD JUST LIKE TO SAY...
Thanks Ricardo Colclough.
REGGIE BUSH? HOW ABOUT KENNY WATSON?
Kenny Watson ran three times for 35 yards, caught one pass for nine yards, and returned 106 yards on kickoff return. That equates to 150 total yards. Reggie Bush hasn't seen numbers like that - and he's had more touches per game.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
The Bengals converted four of their first five third-down conversions. After that, they didn't convert a third down on the following seven tries (translation: rest of game).
By my count, Palmer completed four of seven passes for 53 yards, a touchdown, an interception and two first downs. Of his seven pass attempts, four went to Chris Henry (only one reception) and three went to T.J. (two first downs and the other fell one-yard short of a first). Palmer also fumbled twice and was sacked by Brett Keisel on third down. Watson ran twice for 17 yards.
Tory James, illegal contact.
Bobbie Williams, false start
Bryan Robinson, personal foul facemask.
Eric Steinbach, false start.
Madieu Williams, roughing the passer, hands to the face.
* Note. The unnecessary roughness penalty against Ahmad Brooks was not counted.
For the season
Willie Anderson 2 (false start, holding)
Carson Palmer 2 (false start and delay of game)
Kenny Watson (chop block)
Shayne Graham (delay of game)
Eric Steinbach 2 (2 false starts)
Chris Henry, false start)
Ethan Kilmer (false start on punt)
Madieu Williams 2 (2 personal foul -- late hit and hands to face)
Landon Johnson, (roughing the passer -- hitting the QB below the knee)
Bryan Robinson 2 (2 personal fouls)
Tory James, illegal contact.
Bobbie Williams, false start
As a team:
On fourth-and-inches on Cincinnati's own 30 yard line, the Bengals offense calls Palmer's number on a sneak. After the snap, the line of scrimmage was jammed. At first, it didn't look like Palmer would make it. After a moment, Palmer looks to the right and leaps for the first down. It was close and Bill Cowher had his flag in his hand to challenge the call - he didn't.
The fourth down conversion really didn't matter because Palmer was sacked on the next play essentially killing this drive. But if the Bengals didn't convert that fourth down, the game would have been too far out of reach; the Bengals were only down by three at that point.
DID LARSON JUST COME THROUGH?
I've ripped Kyle Larson for years. I've always teased his ability to kick shanks and 20-yard punts in the most crucial times in the game. After the Bengals wimpy three and out (running all three plays) with about three minutes left in the game, Larson was forced to punt. With 2:53 left in the fourth quarter the special teams needed to come up huge; and they did.
Larson unleashed a 57-yard monster punt to the Pittsburgh 7-yard line. Santonio Holmes returned it 14 yards, but the Steelers were penalized 10-yards after Logan was caught taunting. This put Pittsburgh back on their 11-yard line with 2:42 to go.
POINTS OFF TURNOVER
- Madieu Williams interception led to the Bengals 14-play, 97-yard drive for touchdown.
- Jeff Reed's missed 48-yard field goal led to a Bengals touchdown right before half-time.
- Ricardo Colclough's muffed punt (thank you) led to T.J.'s 9-yard touchdown reception.
- Vernon Haynes fumble led to a 30-yard touchdown pass to T.J.
All I have to say is...
Thanks Ricardo Colclough.