Cincinnati's 20-7 lead over the Indianapolis Colts was quickly threatened with the Colts scoring ten points within the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, reducing their 13-point deficit to within a field goal. Additionally after Dallas Clark's one-yard touchdown reception, the Bengals were flagged for an offensive holding on Donald Lee and a personal foul (late hit) on Kyle Cook, forcing them to punt from their own 13-yard line and giving the Colts the football back at their own 40-yard line with 7:44 remaining in the game. Plenty of time remained to kick a game-tying field goal with a Bengals offense that gained zero yards on six plays during the team's first two fourth quarter possessions.
And it continued.
Curtis Painter led the Colts offense back onto the field starting from their own 40-yard line, posting 26 yards passing on three completions before a second-and-ten incomplete pass led to Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap laying injured on the field. Both were forced to come out, but later returned. As the fourth quarter progressed, the red marks around my temples expanded.
The Colts needed ten yards for a third down conversion with 5:47 remaining in the game. Jeff Saturday snaps the football out of shotgun and Curtis Painter secures the football. Cincinnati's defense rushed with five players, generating enough of a pass rush for Painter to throw the football before wide receiver Pierre Garcon was ready for it. The pass sailed well out of bounds down the right sidelines.
Adam Vinatieri jogged onto the field, lining up a 52-yard field goal attempt with the football perfectly placed between the hashmarks. Cornerback Nate Clements lined up far left (from the Bengals point of view) and wrapped around the Colts blockers, lifting both hands to partially block the field goal attempt.
The crowd of 52-thousand plus was loud enough to mimic a full capacity when Vinatieri's field goal spun to the left like a slider after Clement's deflection.
Momentum seemed to return with 5:38 remaining in the game. Brian Leonard converted a third and eight with a 25-yard screen pass and Mike Nugent was lining up for a 43-yard field goal attempt with 13 consecutive conversions made through the first six games of the season. Wide right. For crap's sake. Really?
From their own 33-yard line, the Colts geared up for another sustained drive in the hopes to, at the very least, tie the game. Curtis Painter takes the shotgun snap, enjoys the comfortable pocket and targets Pierre Garcon's two-yard in-route, catching the well thrown ball at the Colts 36-yard line. On the play Brandon Johnson, lined up over Dallas Clark, redirects the tight end while holding his zone five yards off the line of scrimmage. Garcon catches the football and Johnson wraps him up, but the receiver is able to stay on his feet in a futile attempt to keep the play alive. Garcon even made the completely insane (dare I say game-losing) decision to lateral it to someone behind him, leaving the football completely exposed. Reggie Nelson takes advantage, lowering his right shoulder square into Garcon, forcing the wide receiver to lose the football.
Once Reggie Nelson dislodged the football from Garcon, the football took a single bounce into the loving embrace of defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who said to Brandon Tate, this is how you return a football. Dunlap became the second Bengals defensive lineman to score a touchdown in consecutive weeks, following up Geno Atkins' touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.
A sigh of relief is exhaled across the Queen City as the Bengals secure a more comfortable 10-point lead with over two minutes remaining in the game. Mike Nugent, forced to kick from the 20-yard line after Cincinnati's 15-yard celebration penalty after Dunlap's touchdown, smokes the football 80 yards in the air that forced returner Joe Lefeged to catch the football on the opposing goalline, even drifting two yards deep in the endzone. He brought it out where Cedric Peerman, one of the team's special teams players of the game, stood up Lefeged at the 14-yard line with Gibril Wilson giving the assist and forcefully dropping the returner to the ground. Now we're pumped.
With 2:18 remaining, Curtis Painter stands in shotgun formation at the 15-yard line. Painter drops back with Geno Atkins growing in his peripheral vision, unleashing the football to his left. Leon Hall, covering Reggie Wayne's short hitch route, abandons his zone once Painter releases the football in a dead-sprint back towards Austin Collie's deeper route towards the left sidelines. Hall tracks down the football like the intended receiver for the interception.
It was quite literally the perfect read.
Cincinnati's win on Sunday was largely the result of major plays being made by the defense and special teams (despite Mike Nugent's missed field goal) late in the fourth quarter.