Oh my god, what a game.
There's 2:50 remaining in the game with the Bengals white-knuckling a two-point lead. Peyton Manning, on third and one from the Broncos 29-yard line, lobs the football towards Demaryius Thomas just off the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick cuts off the pass and returns the interception 30 yards for the touchdown.
Dre Kirkpatrick with the pick-six with 2:50 remaining in the game. Bengals take a 37-28 lead. https://t.co/AC1tku3kcm— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
The score gave the Bengals a 37-28 lead, securing the win and clinching a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. The win helps Cincinnati relieve the burden of failing to win primetime games, having only won two of the past eight games (and 11 if we include the playoffs). Kirkpatrick added another interception with 1:14 remaining to seal the win for Cincinnati.
Yet it was an emotional rollercoaster. Admit it. When you saw Aqib Talib's diving interception, your heart sunk deep into the bowls of depression when Denver's cornerback scored the touchdown and A.J. Green was coming off the field in pain.
Green wouldn't recover but Cincinnati would, scoring 17 unanswered points in the first half. Who would have thought that Cincinnati would lead 20-7 when the game reached half time after a "here we go again" moment early in the first?
Like an explorer violently taking unclaimed territory, the Broncos accepted help from a goofy mistakes by Cincinnati to outscore the Bengals 21-7 in the period. No, not goofy mistakes. Fatal. Omar Bolden returned the opening second half kickoff 77 yards to the Bengals 21-yard line. A few plays later, C.J. Anderson pounded the football for a one-yard touchdown to reduce Cincinnati's lead, 20-14. Adam Jones responded with an 80-yard kickoff return and Giovani Bernard took a swing pass into the endzone to recoup that loss and recover their 13-point lead.
Then it went downhill in a hurry... thanks to those aforementioned goofy mistakes by the Bengals. During Denver's ensuing possession, Peyton Manning hit Wallace Gilberry in the numbers, but he couldn't hold onto the football. A few plays later, Denver scored a touchdown, pulling to within six points (27-21).
The Bengals pieced together a 50-play drive, reaching the Broncos eight-yard line. Linebacker Von Miller yanked the football from Jeremy Hill. Denver went 91 yards on eight plays and took a 28-27 lead on an easy touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who was covered by Dre Kirkpatrick who replaced Terence Newman, who was owned by Manning. It's a symbiotic relationship, apparently.
GO AWAY THIRD QUARTER
On the third play during Denver's first possession in the fourth quarter, Adam Jones intercepts Manning's pass but Reggie Nelson is flagged for taunting.
What do the Bengals do? Nothing.
With 12:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton makes an unbelievable decision during a scramble by trying to hit A.J. Green, who had been playing with one arm since the pick-six early in the first quarter. It's amazing that Aqib Talib didn't intercept the football -- which wasn't going to be caught anyway. Dalton tried hitting tight end Jermaine Gresham in double coverage, which fell incomplete.
When the Bengals are tied or playing ahead, Dalton can produce. When playing from behind against a good team like the Broncos, my confidence in Dalton continues to deteriorate this season.
Then the recovery.
Brandon Tate, after the defense forced a three-and-out, returned the ensuing punt 49 yards to the Broncos 12-yard line with 9:43 remaining in the third. Unable to gain a first down, Mike Nugent converts the 23-yard field goal to take a 30-28 lead with 7:49 remaining in the game.
After Cincinnati only wiped out 1:54 off the clock, Denver resumed their offense from their own 20-yard line with 4:04 remaining in the game.
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The Bengals took an early jab on the chin after a quick slant that targeted A.J. Green was tipped off the receiver's hand. Aqib Talib made a diving catch and returned it 33 yards for the touchdown.
Dalton pass deflected and returned for a TD. Officials confirmed. Broncos leading 7-0. https://t.co/S3OA32QF06— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
In addition to the unscheduled touchdown for Denver, Cincinnati essentially lost their best offensive weapon when A.J. Green suffered an arm injury.
On Cincinnati's ensuing possession, Jeremy Hill took the handoff and sprinted 85 yards for the touchdown to tie the game at seven with over ten minutes remaining in the first quarter. Game on!
Jeremy Hill with an 85 yard touchdown run. Bengals tie the game at seven. https://t.co/fVWc82rKI5— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
Jeremy Hill's 85-yd TD run is the 4th rush TD of 80+ yds ever allowed by Denver, 1st since Ahman Green in 2003.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 23, 2014
THE DEFENSE READS
Cincinnati's defense wasn't a problem early. During Denver's first three possessions, the Broncos generated only two first downs and failed to reach midfield in the first quarter. With 2:23 remaining in the first quarter, Vincent Rey read C.J. Anderson's run and dropped the running back for a five-yard loss.
Vinny Rey with a five yard loss on second down. Forces a third and eight. https://t.co/0vNQNBgCq7— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
With third and eight and 1:40 remaining from their own 20-yard line, Manning attempts to hit Emmanuel Sanders on a screen that lost two yards. Safety Reggie Nelson quickly read the play and forced the Broncos to punt.
Great play by Reggie Nelson, reading the play and dropping Sanders for a two yard loss. Broncos go three an... https://t.co/oVI1jO4VAy— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
BENGALS TAKE 10-7 LEAD
The Bengals took a 10-7 lead with 10:23 remaining in the second quarter, concluding a ten-play possession that took out 5:23 off the clock. Cincinnati also converted a fourth down when Jeremy Hill bounced off a pile to find enough room for a first down conversion.
REGGIE NELSON INTERCEPTION
With 9:57 remaining in the second quarter, Peyton Manning tries hitting tight end Julius Thomas on a quick out towards the left sidelines. Safety Reggie Nelson out-muscled Thomas for the football, securing the football and interception.
Interception or not? I say, at the very least, inconclusive. call is interception on the field. https://t.co/vXOLFGobur— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
The Bengals have the football at the Broncos 22-yard line.
BENGALS TAKE 17-7 LEAD
Cincinnati decides to keep the football on the ground, playing zone-read run by Andy Dalton, generating 10 yards. After a Jeremy Hill gain, Dalton picked up another nine yards and the first down on a run near the goalline. Cincinnati takes a 17-7 lead on a naked boot rollout pass to Jermaine Gresham.
Bengals take 17-7 lead on Gresham TD. Just under eight minutes remain in the first half. https://t.co/KDNNbrzygX— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
BENGALS EXTEND LEAD 20-7
Mike Nugent converted his 13th consecutive field goal with 1:03 remaining in the first quarter, giving Cincinnati a 20-7 lead. Denver moved downfield and put Connor Barth in position to add a 49-yarder but hooked it wide left.
THEN IT WENT DOWNHILL
BENGALS STILL LEAD 20-14
Omar Bolden returned the opening kickoff in the third quarter 77 yards to the Bengals 21-yard line. Peyton Manning strikes with a 19-yard pass to a wide open DeMaryius Thomas, reaching the Bengals two-yard line with 14:24 remaining in the third. After an incomplete and defensive pass interference on Terence Newman, the Broncos reduced Cincinnati's lead on C.J. Anderson's one-yard touchdown.
"HUGE momentum shifter for the Broncos" - Gruden TOUCHDOWN DENVER! pic.twitter.com/cM8cYYDtHj— ESPN Monday Night (@ESPNMondayNight) December 23, 2014
YET THE BENGALS RESPOND, AGAIN
Adam Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Broncos 27-yard line...
Adam Jones 80 yard kickoff return to the Broncos 27 with 14 minutes remaining in the third. https://t.co/dNtbtWrrtE— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
...and Giovani Bernard scored the touchdown two players later.
Giovani TD catch with 12:43 remaining in the third, giving the Bengals a 27-14 lead. https://t.co/fEgfqALyXm— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 23, 2014
|LB Emmanuel Lamur||LB Brandon Marshall|
|WR James Wright||OT Paul Cornick|
|QB AJ McCarron||RB Ronnie Hillman|
|DT Devon Still||CB Tony Carter|
|WR Greg Little||TE Dominique Jones|
|CB Chris Lewis-Harris||DE Quanterus Smith|
|OL Tanner Hawkinson||OT Michael Schofield|