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Not-So Daily Banter: Playoffs And One Play Momentum Changes

Just How Far Out Are The Bengals? Accidentally slipping on the recently mopped floors, my optimistic wool hat fell off the kitchen cabinets and onto my pessimistic mellon. Saying that the Bengals still have a shot at the playoffs would seem just naive enough to anyone that hasn't watched this team week in and week out. There's no confidence in fans to believe that a winning streak is coming; yet most fans will cheer the team week to week for victory. That's what we do, no matter how frustrating the surrounding "intangibles" are.

Yet, the Bengals play the Steelers on Monday Night Football. With a win and a Ravens loss to the same Miami Dolphins team that beat Cincinnati, the Bengals would be within two games of the division lead, holding the head-to-head tie-breaker in each instance. Long shot I know, but like I said, the optimistic wool cap fell when I slipped on the slippery floors.

Now that the wool is removed, I'm reminded that the Bengals aren't playing well enough to install confidence that there's a playoff run within this 2-5 team, that even though they can get within two games, the Steelers and Ravens are more likely to keep pace and beat the teams that they should beat, unlike Cincinnati. Damn optimistic cap. I'll have to invest in a fan to dry the floors quicker.

Does One Play Change A Game? The Bengals defense, while somewhat admirable in their efforts to step up for an injury riddled secondary, gave up 158 yards to the Miami Dolphins' 13th ranked offense in the first half. Of Miami's first two field goals, the Dolphins ran back-to-back drives of 10 plays or more before their first and only first half punt. After a Morgan Trent interception, Miami would go on to successfully kick back-to-back field goals to end the first half. It's not all too terribly bad. Considering that they could have been touchdowns, only one field goal attempt reached inside the team's 20-yard line during the first 30 minutes. And the last field goal was a result of terrible clock management by the offense in the first half. With 49 seconds left in the first half, the Bengals enjoyed a five-point lead when Carson Palmer and company jogged onto the field at their own 26-yard line.

On one hand, I love aggressiveness. Throwing on first down to pick up a chunk of yardage that eventually results in a quick field goal tends to make me all tingly inside. On the other hand, there's still 74 yards to go within a minute and the Bengals had just punted the football three times before the touchdown that should have been Carson Palmer's first interception.

But whatever you do, make sure you keep the clock rolling so Miami has to use their timeouts if they have visions of doing anything before the first half expires.

Incomplete pass to Terrell Owens. Even though it seems odd that the Bengals would run the football on second down, they had to force Miami to use a timeout by keeping the clock rolling. Cincinnati could throw it again, but after the incomplete, you quickly developed the feeling that the Bengals simply didn't want to risk something bad by pressing the football down the field (see, Buccaneers, Tampa Bay). Second down, two-yard run by Brian Leonard forces Cincinnati into a third-and-long when Miami calls their first timeout in the half; incomplete pass on third down allowed Miami to keep two timeouts. A punt and a Davone Bess punt return for 17 yards later, the Dolphins picked up 13 yards on three plays, using both timeouts, capped by a four-yard Bess reception in which he was able to get out of bounds. Dan Carpenter converts a 54-yard field goal to reduce Miami's deficit to two points as the clock expires.

Was that the shift in momentum that eventually gave Miami the win? Perhaps. The Bengals defense forced a three-and-out before Miami's 15-play drive that bent the defensive will, but never broke it, as Carpenter joins three other field goal kickers (John Carney in 1994, John Kasay in 1996 and Richie Cunningham in 1997) as the only players to convert five field goals in back-to-back games on a 31-yard conversion. The defense would force another punt before allowing a 98-yard touchdown drive in six plays, three of which were on plays of 24 yards or more.

+ Said Bob Bratkowski after the offense's inability to pick up third downs against Miami:

"When you chart (the plays) and see where it broke down there was no common theme to it," Bratkowski said. "Some were good plays by them, some are not doing things, some were inexperience with some of the younger guys, so it's a variety of things. It's a critical thing. We've got to do better on third downs."

+ Joe Reedy writes in the same article above:

Carson Palmer is last in the AFC and 27th out of 30 in third-down passing, going 40 of 82 for 431 yards and a rating of 62.6. He is one of four QBs with a completion percentage on third down below 50 percent.