Over the years since I've written for Cincy Jungle, there have been some confrontations with readers who don't believe in the intangibles of sports. One of said intangibles is the notion of "momentum", a non-quantifiable aspect of games that can shift outcomes of matchups.
For those who subscribe to the idea that metrics and Pro Football Focus grades truly tell what one needs to know when reviewing tape and forming a roster, momentum isn't something that readily comes to the forefront of the mind when evaluating games. For those who prefer more of an old school approach and more frequently use the eye test, momentum is a very real thing.
Fans who have followed the Cincinnati Bengals have truly seen it all, including moments in contests that can only be described as gigantic momentum swings. While Marvin Lewis has engrained an ability for his teams to overcome some major plays that had normally deflated past Cincinnati squads, there are still those iconic painful times when the Bengals allow a play to snowball on them. These instances tend to become painfully clear when the Bengals play in games on the biggest of stages.
After a somewhat-surprisingly dominant performance in the first half of Week 16 against the Denver Broncos, the Bengals had an opportunity to take a three-possession stranglehold on Monday Night Football. After getting a 14-0 lead and marching down on a nine-play drive, Cincinnati stalled out on the 10th play sending kicker Mike Nugent out to add to the lead.
Now, 45-yard field goals are never gimmes at any level of football, but with the elevation aiding almost any kicker in Denver, you would think Nugent had a solid shot at making it a three-score contest and really taking the Broncos out of the game just before the two-minute warning.
Instead, Nugent missed the kick and gave the Broncos' offense good field position. After almost an entire half with zero points allowed and an entire home fan base booing Denver's offensive unit, Nugent's miss provided the single spark that has plagued the Bengals in these playoff-type games over the years.
What ensued was a seven-play drive, encompassing 2:12 on the game clock and a Brian McManus field goal, completing a huge six-point swing. While it didn't seem like three points was a big deal after such a dominant first half by Cincinnati, it began a slow decline and, ultimately a deflating loss.
Halftime adjustments ensued and Denver scored a touchdown at the onset of the third quarter, suddenly making the game 14-10. After Nugent's miss, it began a 20-3 run and a heartbreaking overtime loss. Now, we don't want to put the blame on Nugent the player, as he nailed a critical game-tying field goal from 52 yards out, seven yards deeper than the missed attempt.
However, it can't be denied that the team seemed to become deflated at the first sign of adversity. Sure, questionable offensive play-calling in the second half and fatigue setting in for the defense at a high altitude were the slow erosions leading to an eventual loss, but the missed field goal marked a critical moment where the air came out of the Bengals as a collective team. Field goals are critical to teams down the stretch and in the playoffs and a 45-yard miss isn't something the Bengals can afford to happen again.