One could argue that A.J. Green's 38-yard reception with 13:49 remaining in the game was the play of the game. It converted a third-and-18, immediately flipped the field and set the stage for a confidence that began growing in quarterback Andy Dalton. The fan-favorite quarterback would go on to throw a gem later during the possession to give Cincinnati a 27-10 lead (and the eventual win).
If you pick that on your garden variety reader poll... that's a-ok with me.
But it's not mine.
New Orleans was forcing their will on Cincinnati's defense early. It appeared that the Bengals were resolved to keep everything in front of them, even if that meant allowing significant gaps in coverage. During their first possession, New Orleans ran 14 plays and moved the football from their own 20 to the Bengals 13-yard line, where new Orleans took a 3-0 lead on a 31-yard Shayne Graham field goal. It was with relative ease that the Saints moved.
And it seemed like they were poised to move downfield again. By their 16th play on their ensuing possession, New Orleans reached the Bengals one-yard line. It was third down when Brees handed off to running back Mark Ingram. Domata Peko, telling his teammates that he'd make up for the personal foul earlier, made the stop.
"I told my guys I'd make up for it on the next play and I had a nice little tackle on the goal line there and the ball almost came out there," Peko said.
It was fourth and goal from the one. The Saints offense remained on the field.
Brees faked the handoff and flipped the football to fullback Erik Lorig. Safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Rey Maualuga instantly reacted to the play and dropped Lorig for a one-yard loss.
"We did a great job and came down and stopped it," said Rey Maualuga, who returned after a four-game absence from a severe hamstring injury. "It gave a spark to our offense, it gave a spark to our whole team. We knew we had to show up and play."
Cincinnati went 94 yards on the ensuing possession, scoring a field goal and taking a 10-3 lead with 2:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Defensively, the Bengals gained confidence and momentum. On New Orleans' final possession in the first half and first possession in the second, they punted. Then after a 75-yard touchdown drive to reduce Cincinnati's lead to 20-10, the Saints punted and then fumbled to end the game.
It started during practice this week.
"If you ask anybody on our defense, they'll tell you about practice this past week. Practice was extremely physical and I think we just took that into the game," linebacker Vincent Rey said.
"We showed up. We did a great job. I don't know if it was just one person that did their job or whatnot, I think we came to play," Maualuga said. "We had 10 days to reflect on what we needed to work on. And obviously that was one of the things we had trouble with in the past couple of weeks. When everyone starts talking and everyone starts being accountable for certain things, obviously that makes things go good. Coach talks about this being a new week, this being something different, and this is a start."