Cincinnati's second half started poorly. Broncos linebacker Joe Mays threaded between offensive lineman, finding Cedric Benson through ever obstacle. On a run to the right to start the second half, Mays tackled Benson high for a two-yard loss. The following screen pass fooled no one, especially Mays who likely gave Benson enough nightmare on the return flight from Denver Sunday night to last through Halloween. No, Cedric. The turbulence on the flight isn't Mays perched on the plane's wings, waiting for you.
A five-yard dump-off pass on third-and-15 by Andy Dalton ended the team's second half possession. To compound the problem, Nate Clements was badly beaten on an Eric Decker swim-like move that gave the receiver an advantage over the middle, where no defenders protected the middle of the field. Decker hauled in the pass and scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass to give Denver the 17-3 lead. At this point we're back to our safe argument -- it's a rebuilding team and we're expecting games like this. Obviously the defense was the biggest let-down on Sunday, but Cincinnati's offense just seemed lifeless.
Now if this were the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals, few of us would have expected anything more than brooding wide receivers and a quarterback that hides his hands in his warmer while hiding his face, observing the field that passes as he takes the isolationist road to the sidelines. Fortunately for all of us, this isn't the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals. And instead of a quarterback that acts more martyr than hero, the Bengals have a rookie quarterback that worked the bench, talking up his receivers, giving high-fives and clapping his hands with encouragement.
A cheerleader is just one of his jobs. Because apparently when he means something, he's going to follow through on it. When the Bengals offense re-took the field with just under 11 minutes left in the second half, Andy Dalton completed two passes of over 25 yards to A.J. Green before the drive stalled, forcing the team to settle for a 37-yard field goal. Back to the sidelines and back to firing his guys up.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Andy Dalton led a six-play drive for 72 yards that was highlighted with a 34-yard Jerome Simpson reception, capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell in the middle of the endzone. Now the Bengals are only down by five points and Dalton is leading this Bengals squad with spirit and performance; in the past it was always one or the other and sometimes none at all.
With 13:30 left in the fourth quarter, Broncos rookie Von Miller sprinted off the edge to drop Andy Dalton for a 13-yard loss on a quarterback sacks. Fine. Dalton responds with an 84-yard completion to Jerome Simpson, which is the franchise record for longest reception without scoring a touchdown. A dink pass later and Dalton fires a pass to his left, somewhat high, to A.J. Green just beyond the front pylon. Green jumps, brings his right foot down and before his momentum is forced out, Green tips his left toe inbounds.
Unfortunately, Cincinnati would end up losing the game by two points, largely thanks to a 52-yard touchdown reception by receiver Eric Decker, who broke free once Crocker leveled cornerback Nate Clements, taking them both out of the play.
Even though there's plenty to working on (like third down situations), Andy Dalton showed us a lot Sunday. When the team was down in the first half, showing little energy and coming out flat, he took it upon himself to lead the Bengals into one of the more memorable second-half performances by a quarterback since Carson Palmer's 27-26 win over the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 (10 of 12 passes for 200 yards passing and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter).
We're only talking about a quarterback with six quarters of NFL experience. Just imagine how much further he could grow at the rate he's growing. And we're not talking about just his performance; his leadership qualities began to really show.