The date was October 15, 2006. The weather was a warm 77 degrees at kickoff, with light winds. The game featured the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals and the 0-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, was making his second NFL start. With Cincinnati leading 13-7 and 4:21 left in the game, the Gradkowski led Buccaneers offense takes the field. After converting a first down, Tampa Bay lined up at the Bengals 32-yard line. What happened next is bound to be etched in the memory of many Bengals fans. Since I got the way-back machine out yesterday for our Chris Henry piece, I figure, why not reference an old entry during Cincy Jungle's first year in existence.
But the bigger controversy was Justin Smith's roughing the passer. Smith wrapped up Bruce Gradkowski, who lowered his head, hitting the ground with the top of his helmet. Gradkowski lost the ball and I put my arms up thinking this game was over. But since Smith tried to tackle the quarterback - which is illegal - the Bengals were penalized 15 yards; Tampa Bay scored the winning touchdown a few plays later.
I understand the idea of protecting helpless children, women and quarterbacks. Let's be honest though, hard knocks are what injures quarterbacks; not being rolled onto your head or the extension of arms. A cornerback, safety or linebacker, with a full head of steam, will devastate a Quarterback's body (Google the Ohio State Buckeyes and Drew Stanton... or Chris Simms). It took until this off-season to make a rule that defensive players couldn't shred the knee of a quarterback. Smith's sack was minimal in scope to the health of the quarterback but monumental in scope to the game.
The penalty not only pushed the Buccaneers to the Cincinnati 25-yard line, but Cincinnati lost a fumble recovery which would have likely sealed the game. The Bengals couldn't stop the offense after that, even though Tampa Bay was forced to make a third-and-13 conversion -- which they did on fourth down when Gradkowski completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Mark Clayton. Game over.
Peter King wrote at the time, "... HORRENDOUS roughing-the-passer call in Tampa, giving the Bucs good field position as they drive, with a Toledo Rocket at quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, to try to beat the hanging-on-for-dear-life Bengals at the Pirate Ship." And Justin Smith said at the time, "That was the ballgame," Smith said. "There was no whistle call, nothing like that to stop the play. I didn't slam him (or) pick him up. He doubled over, went down and fumbled the ball."
Why bring all of this up, you ask? For one, I can. For two, the Bengals will be seeing Gradkowski again this weekend in Oakland.
The Oakland Raiders benched former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell on Wednesday, handing the starting job to journeyman Bruce Gradkowski for the foreseeable future.
Coach Tom Cable made the announcement of the change following practice as the Raiders (2-7) prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Cable said this was not a temporary move, that his plan is to stick with Gradkowski.
"I don't want to be like that," he said. "This is where we're headed and what we're going to do. He'll take this team and go with it."
If the Bengals bring their best game to Oakland, I don't see this as remotely being a problem. Cincinnati, I believe, is fielding the best overall team this year compared to the entire Marvin Lewis era. And the players are well aware of the implications of playing a 2-7 team. However, sometimes the football gods mix it up a little. And they did that weekend in 2006. When the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals lost to the 0-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.