You knew the afternoon on December 26, 2010 would favor the Cincinnati Bengals when San Diego's first offensive snap resulted in a fumble on an end-around by Vincent Jackson. As good players tend to do, Jackson back-tracked into the endzone after recovering the football around the two-yard line. Losing his balance while spinning off a Rey Maualuga tackle, Jackson dove just outside the endzone to setup an unrecoverable second-and-29. Realizing the futility of trying to gain a first down, and the unnecessary risk it presents being so early in the game, the Chargers punted the football after consecutive runs up the middle by Jacob Hester and Michael Tolbert. And by punt, we really mean a complete 24-yard shank-job by Mike Scifres to San Diego's 32-yard line.
How many interceptions have we seen early in a game that caused us groan, ripping off Star Wars catch-phrases with, "I have a bad feeling about this." In reality, suggesting that we don't instinctually repeat that phrase during any Bengals game would be a complete friggin' lie. Even with a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, a sense of unease unsettled my stomach. I remember 2006. I remember the Bengals sported a joyful 28-7 lead against the same Chargers, only to go "lights out", losing by eight points with a defense that allowed six second-half touchdowns. Six! A re-imaging of that story repeated itself a month earlier against Buffalo when the Bengals lost a 31-14 lead by allowing 35 points in the second half; at least it was only five second half touchdowns.
Blame Bengals fans all you like about being pessimistic. But you'll never find me suggesting anything less than a fifty-point half time lead as a sure-thing. That being said, my stomach would eventually settle, the birds would sing one last song before navigating south for the winter and even my children called me to wish me a Merry Christmas. And I don't even have kids!
Many reasons exist why we decided to take a trip on the way back machine, calling this game the "Best Win Of The 2010 Season." It was San Diego's playoff chances ending at blustery cold Paul Brown Stadium. It was the rebuilding of competency largely because the team was comprised of young players that could result in a long-term solution for the Bengals. But most of it, it was just badass and we really didn't have many moments of badassery in 2010.
Let's take a stroll and remember the game (all of the following is all new material).
Gresham's Potential Blossoms To Give The Bengals A Lead. Bengals line up in I-formation with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell bunched to the left. Jermaine Gresham lines up to the right of Anthony Collins while Reggie Kelly goes into motion from right to left with over 12 minutes remaining in the first quarter. With 12 yards to go on second down, Carson Palmer drops back, watches Simpson run vertical while Caldwell runs underneath to occupy the middle linebacker that should have covered Gresham running a post down the middle. The opening allowed the rookie tight end to haul in the easy reception, bounce off a badly attempted tackle from safety Eric Weddle, hurdle over a diving Steve Gregory before a combined five defensive players were finally able to bring Gresham down.
On third and two with over 10 minutes left in the first quarter, quarterback Carson Palmer back pedals into position after initially being under center. Gresham lines up wide inside of Andre Caldwell. Jordan Shipley, in the slot to the left, motions that sets up trips right. Jerome Simpson, crouched like a tiger, lines up wide left, inches from the four-yard line when Palmer takes the shotgun snap. Gresham battles for position over the middle, Shipley delays his route outside and Caldwell takes off towards the back of the endzone. Caldwell and Gresham both turn inside and Palmer throws the football into a tight window between two defenders (while Caldwell was wide open) to Gresham, narrowly avoiding the goal post in the back of the endzone. And this takes place while he was interfered with by defensive back Paul Oliver.
The Bengals take a seven-point lead and never lose that lead again throughout the rest of the afternoon. But we didn't know that at the time. San Diego's offense came into the game ranked second in the NFL while the Bengals defense was shaky at best.
The Jerome Simpson Show Is Nominated For An Emmy Of Awesome. Third and goal from the Bengals 10-yard line with just over 13 minutes left in the second quarter. Carson Palmer, in shotgun, barks out calls with Andre Caldwell flanked wide right listening in. Simpson, who is starring at the football like a cat preparing to pounce on a live unsuspecting animal, lines up inside of Jordan Shipley. Caldwell fights off the defensive back, stepping outside and running vertical. I say that because Palmer didn't even bother looking that way and unlike Palmer, I wanted to briefly acknowledge that Caldwell was, in fact, there. Jermaine Gresham lined up in a two-point stance, chipped the defensive end and broke out, hoping to occupy a defensive player underneath to open passing lanes.
After taking his fifth step in his drop back, Palmer looked towards Simpson, who began working the second half of the fade route (the part where he actually fades). About two yards in front of the "E" of Bengals in the endzone, Palmer threw. Simpson stayed on his route, hauling in the touchdown pass just outside of the "B", dragging a second foot while defensive back Paul Oliver violently pushed Simpson out of bounds. After the Bengals scored a touchdown to give the team a 13-point advantage, Palmer jogs off the field laughing as if he actually enjoyed himself in a Bengals uniform. The call was disputed by the Chargers and that's when you witnessed the awesomeness of Simpson's reception, mostly using his right hand to grip the football while his left hand was busy with other things, like bracing for the impact and the eventual fall to the ground. The left hand briefly grazed the football during the reception, largely making it a one-handed grab.
That's when Simpson looks into the camera and says, "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I drink them single-handedly. Stay thirsty Bengals fans."
By this time in the game, the Bengals had more points (13) than the Chargers had offensive yards (5).
The Chink In The Bengals Armor That Actually Made Close... For A Minute. With just under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Bengals led the Chargers 13-3. The Chargers were driving, taking their first second-half possession from their own 14-yard line with small, yet significant gains down the field before San Diego lined on the Bengals 23-yard line. Rivers takes the snap from under center with the Chargers in a standard I-formation, strong side right. Running back Ryan Mathews takes the handoff and watches his offensive line punish the Bengals defense.
Domata Peko was doubled-teamed as the point of attack, with Kevin Dielman and Nick Hardwick driving an off-balanced defensive lineman several yards off the line of scrimmage. Left guard Dielman chipped off the block as Maualuga closed into the gap, gently pushing the Bengals linebacker away to give Mathews running room. Dhani Jones' key was likely fullback Jacob Hester, who ran through the "two gap" and collided with the middle linebacker, tricking Jones enough to keep him out of the play.
Mathews went into the endzone untouched, reducing Cincinnati's lead to 13-10.
The Jerome Simpson Breakout Game Continues. The Bengals were holding onto a 20-13 lead with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter when the offense lined up third-and-seven from the Bengals own 41-yard line. With Shipley and Caldwell wide right and Simpson on the left, Palmer took the shotgun snap with two blockers in the backfield. The Chargers played Cover One with the safety rolling towards the side with two wide receivers, essentially allowing Simpson to play against single-man coverage.
As soon as the football was snapped, it was over, no thanks to the Chargers defense being completely unprepared for the snap. Charger players were moving across the line of scrimmage, defensive backs slowly getting to their receivers when Kyle Cook quick snapped the football. By this point cornerback Antoine Cason was on his heals, completely out of position to cover Simpson, who was already at full speed by his third step. And by the time Simpson caught the football, he had already beaten Cason by a full five yards when the Bengals wide receiver ran into the endzone and celebrated his second touchdown. Of the game. And of his career.
The Repercussions. With a 27-13 lead and only six minutes left in the game, the Bengals victory was all but certain. Trust me. The uneasy feeling was still there, thanks to the Bengals loss to Tampa Bay. Yet, the Chargers turned it over on downs on the following possession, which the Bengals followed up with three consecutive Bernard Scott runs that resulted in a touchdown giving the Bengals 34 points on the day.
With a Kansas City's win earlier during the afternoon, the Chargers loss eliminated San Diego from the playoffs while the Bengals posted only their fourth win of the season.
But most importantly, it was Jerome Simpson's breakout game. It was the moment in which we saw a hint of the team's youth. It was the moment in which we thought, wow, he could be pretty damn good. Simpson jogged into the lockerroom with six receptions for the afternoon, 123 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Fluke? Simpson followed that up with a 12-reception performance against the Baltimore Ravens, posting 123 yards receiving and another receiving touchdown.
Not too shabby young man.