"We can play football if our head is on straight and we do what we're supposed to do. We don't lack talent, we just lack focus and efficiency."
- Chris Crocker
The truth is, Cincinnati's storyline in Atlanta goes like this. Defense crashes, offense burns in the first half. Roddy White leads an Atlanta Falcons offense that recorded 299 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Cincinnati's offense wasn't so much repulsive, as it was ineffective. During three of the team's five offensive possessions, Cincinnati recorded eight plays or more in the first half. Once they went three-and-out and during Cincinnati's opening possession in the game, they picked up a first down before a bad pass to Chad Ochocinco, who turned at the first down marker with Palmer throwing as if Chad would hook out, led to a punt. Yet, the offense was ineffective, unable to sustain a drive that led to a touchdown. Basically the same story we've written and recited all season. Copy and paste, the champions against carpel tunnel syndrome.
Cincinnati comes out of the lockerroom in the second half with dejected fans mockingly cheering the team while shoving aside spent Cheetos and warm beer. Text messages crush the limited wireless networks around Cincinnati, ranging from sobbing tears of the good old days when Atlanta last put on a display against the Bengals at the Georgia Dome, in which Cincinnati lost 30-3 during ESPN's Sunday Night Football. I still remember all three announcers laughing at Oliver Gibson's roughing the quarterback foul as if we're the type of kids that try so hard to do it right, only to get it wrong again. I raise my right fist into the air, shaking it like a seizure yelling, "Paul McGuire, you will rue the day..."
Mind you, this is about the time I'm catch myself laughing when the Bengals were messing up late in the first half. No, no, I'm not laughing like a Steelers fan does when accidentally stepping on a Twinkie and giggling to himself, "I made a messy." It's the type of laugh where you believe what you're seeing is real. Like the Steelers fan accidentally stepping on a Twinkie and giggling to himself, "I make a messy."
At one point, losing 24-3, I sneezed. Then Cincinnati was leading by a point which began with a 33-yard Mike Nugent field goal on the opening drive of the second half. After a first down, Atlanta finishes the drive after failing to pick up a first down and punting. Carson Palmer completes five straight passes for 74 yards before Andre Smith's false start puts Cincinnati on Atlanta's 19-yard line. The drive ended with a touchdown pass to Terrell Owens to cut Cincinnati's deficit to 11 points.
On second-and-eight from Atlanta's 33-yard line, Leon Hall shadowed Michael Jenkins down the left sidelines, making it impossible for Ryan to squeeze a pass to the wide receiver. On the following play, Jenkins once again ran down the left sideline with Ryan trying to lead the receiver this time. Hall, sometimes human, most of the time machine, walked to the circled star on the field, stretched his entire body and picked off the pass. After back-to-back runs that led to a 3rd-and-12, the Bengals' Jordan Shipley from the slot ran five yards completely unopposed, hauling in a Carson Palmer pass. The worry at first was that the pass was far too short, but Shipley's deceptive speed completely blew smoke into the face of the Falcons secondary, reducing Cincinnati's deficit to five points on the 64-yard touchdown reception. We'd be evil empire lads if we didn't remark on Terrell Owens' awesome blocking towards the end zone that allowed Shipley to score. Consider that if the Bengals are forced to run a play from the red zone, they will NOT score a touchdown. In reality, Owens' blocking was huge and the Bengals comeback was on.
On the very next offensive play, Ryan completes a short pass to White, where Adam Jones yanked, and yanked, and yanked the football from White, picking up the fumble himself and scoring a touchdown on the 59-yard fumble return, giving Cincinnati a 25-24 lead.
Adam Jones and Terrell Owens, at this point, were garnering respect from fans alone. They did not give up, keeping playing their asses off and not feeling sorry for themselves. Jones and Owens, this one is for you.
The team's comeback in the third quarter was one of the most amazing comebacks I've seen by this team. How they played in the first half, disastrously beaten with dejected fans throwing their arms to the sky, it steal felt shocking that they actually scored a comeback. Yet, when the team took the lead, it almost appeared as if they believed that they had won the game. Unfortunately for everyone associated with the Bengals, it was exactly as Chris Crocker said. The Bengals didn't have focus or efficiency. Better put, the Bengals lost focus in the fourth quarter, which is what some would regard is the most important quarter.
Just after this game declared a shootout, Atlanta responded to Cincinnati's one-point lead by completing an eight-play, 74-yard drive with Roddy White's second touchdown of the day with 13:09 left in the game.
Yet, Cincinnati continued moving the football, finally synching all aspects of their talented offense in which a unified world could exhale as "finally." Palmer completed passes to Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Chad Ochocinco for 25 yards with Cedric Benson picking up 11 yards on two runs setting up a first-and-ten from Atlanta's 39-yard line. After Terrell Owens fooled the secondary with a fake curl route that turned into an unbelievable streak down the left sideline with the secondary sprinting from behind -- obviously leaving his jock strap on the ground -- Carson Palmer stepped up into the pocket and threw a rainbow pass down the left sidelines for Owens. A bit under thrown, Owens turns to catch the football, yet unable to keep his right foot in bounds. The pass, if caught, could have gone the distance.
Cedric Benson takes the handoff on the following play, looks to turn the corner off Andrew Whitworth when suddenly an evil poltergeist, let's call him Air, swatted the football from Benson's hand, making us mere mortals believe that Benson lost the football after absolutely no contact. The Falcons recovered and completed a 10-play, 48-yard drive with a three-yard Michael Turner touchdown run that would eventually be the game winning touchdown for Atlanta.
Owens' inability to catch the football and Benson's fumble aren't reasons to say that the Bengals lost. They only contributed to it. Cincinnati's defense sits on top of the priority blame list, especially in the fourth quarter where the Falcons successfully ran four plays of 10 yards or more, five first downs and 8:07 off the clock. If Cincinnati's defense mans up, prevents one of the touchdowns, while the offense doesn't lose focus (ala Benson's fumble), the momentum this team established in the third quarter sticks with them.
Perhaps if the Bengals realize that getting a sack was more about dropping the opposing quarterback and not holding onto their, you know, sack, then we're be getting somewhere with this defense.