It was an easy touchdown for Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who badly struggled during his 15 other carries that afternoon with a 1.5 yard/rush average. Yet when he took the handoff from the Bengals two-yard line, the defense offered no resistance that allowed the Seahawks to reduce Cincinnati's 11-point lead to five midway through the fourth quarter. Momentum was clearly shifting, compounded by the Bengals offense struggling with a three-and-out and two interceptions to start the second half. It was the type of momentum that's knocked previous Bengals squads from certain victory into an absolute demoralizing defeat.
That's when Cincinnati's special teams stepped in.
During Seattle's ensuing kickoff with 8:55 remaining and the Bengals barely holding onto a five-point lead, return specialist Brandon Tate returned the football to the Bengals 38-yard line during a season-high 45-yard kickoff return. Six plays and 32 yards later, Mike Nugent converts a 48-yard field goal to give the Bengals a little breathing room. A great return sets up a clutch field goal with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
On Cincinnati's ensuing kickoff, safety Taylor Mays drops Leon Washington for a limited 20-yard gain to the Seahawks 15-yard line. It's a big stop, not only because Washington is one of the game's top returners, rather because it challenged the Seahawks offense to break from their own side of the field. Carlos Dunlap drops Tarvaris Jackson for a nine-yard loss on third down forcing Seattle to punt after a three-and-out.
Jon Ryan punts the football to the Bengals 44-yard line and Brandon Tate follows his blocks, makes his reads and returns the football 56 yards for the touchdown giving the Bengals a 27-12 lead and the eventual dagger into Seattle's heart.
Cincinnati's momentum was stalled in the fourth quarter and the Seattle Seahawks were threatening. It wasn't necessarily the defense, nor the offense that shifted the game back into Cincinnati's favor. It was Cincinnati's unassuming and unexpected special teams that hammered the Bengals win on Sunday.