Cincinnati dreamt about doing the unthinkable.
After easily handling Kansas City last week, Cincinnati improved to 4-0 for the first time since '05 -- it's also only the fourth time in franchise history where they opened the season with (at least) a four-game winning streak. Would they improve to 5-0, like previous squads in '75 and '88?
It wasn't easy, and it certainly was emotional.
In fact, it was bleak.
With 6:41 remaining in the third quarter, linebacker Bobby Wagner returned a Rex Burkhead fumble 20 yards for a touchdown, giving Seattle a 24-7 lead. Everything felt lifeless; the stadium was quiet; Twitter was in a state of overreaction. Seattle did what most teams do with a 17-point lead midway through the third: call conservative offensive plays and shift to a prevent-first defense.
Cincinnati took advantage.
A pair of fourth quarter touchdowns reduced Seattle's lead to 24-21. They then needed a field goal if they wanted to send the game into overtime.
This would become one of the more amazing stories this year.
Andy Dalton launched the football down the right sidelines, targeting the reliable Marvin Jones with two minutes remaining in the game. Cornerback Cary Williams was called for defensive interference, putting Cincinnati at Seattle's 45-yard line. Andy Dalton led Tyler Eifert on a spectacular 25-yard reception on the ensuing play. Several plays later, with the clock expiring and no timeouts remaining, Cincinnati sent the field goal unit onto the field. No problem. Once the field goal unit had replaced the offense, Mike Nugent converted the 31-yard kick as the clock expired.
Cincinnati went from a 24-7 deficit with 6:41 remaining in the third quarter to scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Seattle and Cincinnati exchanged punts on their respective opening overtime possessions. Seattle went three and out and Cincinnati opened their second possession from their own 43-yard line with 7:02 remaining in overtime. Tyler Eifert powered for 12 yards on a slant with Giovani Bernard adding another 13 on the ground to the Seahawks 32-yard line.
After a pair of runs, Mike Nugent jogged onto the field, lining up a 42-yard field goal attempt. With memories of last year's Carolina game on everyone's mind, Nugent successfully crushed the field goal to give the Bengals a 27-24 win after it pinballed off the left upright. It was predictably fun from the beginning.
A.J. Green popped 14 yards with 13:11 remaining in the first over Richard Sherman -- who complained that Green pushed off. Two plays later, Dalton perfectly cruised an arching throw to Marvin Jones between Sherman and Earl Thomas in coverage, reaching the Seahawks 14-yard line on the 44-yard completion. On the ensuing play, following a quick timeout, Dalton found a wide-open Tyler Eifert in the endzone, taking advantage of poor communication between Kam Chancellor and Thomas, for the touchdown reception.
This was Cincinnati's fourth opening-drive touchdown of the season -- and the game where they didn't, they scored a touchdown on their second possession.
Yet, this week was different. This isn't the struggling Ravens, depressing Chiefs, Raiders or "see what you have this week" Chargers. Seattle is talented and proven, as evidenced by their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. This was a litmus test for the 4-0 Bengals. As opposed to previous outings where Cincinnati takes an early lead and resists ensuing touchdowns in the first half, Seattle immediately answered with their own 80-yard touchdown drive, capped with a 30-yard touchdown reception by Jermaine Kearse -- Dre Kirkpatrick and Emmanuel Lamur immediately began barking at each other, a clear case of miscommunication.
Eventually, the first half decomposed into a defensive battle with both offenses sharing their blame of mistakes. Had Andrew Whitworth not been seen wrapping his arm outside of Bruce Irvin's shoulder, Cincinnati would have taken a 14-7 lead with 5:26 remaining in the first. Instead, Whitworth's infraction put the Bengals behind schedule, forcing them to punt without gaining another first down. Following a 12-play possession that began with 8:02 remaining in the second and concluded on the short-end of the two-minute warning, Earl Thomas intercepted a floating pass to A.J. Green on the goalline, crushing another red zone effort that led to a turnover (or at the very least, zero points scored).
Seattle covered 76 yards on a drive with 54 seconds remaining in the first half, scoring a field goal and taking a 10-7 lead as the second quarter expired.
Things got worse.
After both squads exchanged punts to open the third quarter, Seattle took a 17-7 lead on Thomas Rawls 69-yard touchdown run. On Cincinnati's ensuing possession, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner scooped up a Rex Burkhead fumble -- on a jet sweep -- returning it 23 yards for the touchdown. Seattle took a 24-7 lead with 6:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Whereas the world seemed desperate and the future inconsolably bleak, Cincinnati regained momentum in the fourth quarter. Taking a queue from the school of having "Adam Jones do everything", the emotional reward on Jones' 35-yard punt return led to a Tyler Eifert 10-yard touchdown with 12:33 remaining in the fourth.
Now it's interesting.
After holding Seattle to only a first down, Cincinnati further reduced their deficit to a field goal on an Andy Dalton quarterback sneak, capping an 11-play drive that spanned 71 yards with 3:38 remaining in the game. Geno Atkins recorded a third quarter sack forcing Seattle to punt, giving Cincinnati an opportunity to tie the game.
In the end, the Bengals pulled it off. Andy Dalton continued to prove despite some mistakes, he is a legitimate NFL quarterback who can propel his team to win, even when they need to come back from behind.
- George Iloka had a nice reaction and open field tackle of Jimmy Graham with 9:15 remaining in the first quarter, looking fairly strong after spending most of September dealing with an ankle.
- Darqueze Dennard had a brilliant play with 12:49 remaining in the second, downing the football at Seattle's two-yard line on Kevin Huber's 49-yard punt. Dennard downed another punt at the two with 5:23 remaining in the fourth, thanks to Brandon Tate who took the bouncing ball and deflected toward the trailing Dennard.
- Andre Smith departed for the locker room early in the third quarter with an elbow injury. He returned later in the game.