Sometimes playing a much-lesser opponent can provide a cure-all to a team’s season. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the Cleveland Browns in Week 7, while nursing a disappointing 2-4 record and they knew a win was needed to keep their playoff hopes alive. Hue Jackson and his squad proved to be an interestingly tough opponent, but Marvin Lewis’ crew prevailed.
Initially, it seemed like the Bengals had things under control in the first half. After marching for an opening drive touchdown, holding the Browns to punt and getting into field goal range in the first three possessions, it seemed as if it would be a cruise control-type of Sunday for the Bengals. But, a missed Mike Nugent field goal on that third possession and an allowance of the Browns to score a subsequent touchdown made Sunday a tenuous situation, facing off against a winless opponent in front of a home crowd.
But, when you’re a struggling team, it’s best to go to your biggest playmakers. And, while quarterback Andy Dalton didn’t commit a turnover for the fifth time in seven games, he sensed a spark was needed. Though it might not have been truly intentional, Dalton targeted A.J. Green for a game-changing play right before the half.
Cincinnati was ahead 14-10 before the final play of the half and was trying to tack on more points before halftime. After a handful of passes and a quarterback sack, Dalton and the Bengals were having trouble getting into Nugent’s range once again. With seven seconds left, the team decided to take a Hail Mary shot into the end zone instead of a quick pass and field goal attempt.
What subsequently occurred was magic.
Green and the newly-activated Tyler Eifert were in the vicinity of Dalton’s 48-yard prayer pass, but so were four Browns defenders. Green out-jumped all defenders to get his right paw on the ball, only to juggle it and come down with a touchdown. It was not only a dagger to the heart of the Browns, but might have turned the tide for the entire Bengals’ season.
Every defender involved here has to address A.J. Green as "sir" from now on https://t.co/nA8WH8g1yy— Zito (@_Zeets) October 23, 2016
“I was just trying to give myself a chance to get it,” Green said after the game of the massive touchdown. “I got off the line clean and ran down there. I got one hand on it and just brought it in.”
At the risk of sounding like an unprofessional writer, both the play and the catch were downright silly. Some gave Green’s vaunted juggling skills the credit for a play like this, and while it’s true, concentration, size and athleticism was the tale of the tape. Others, like Rodney Harrison on the Sunday Night Football broadcast were only willing to chalk it up to luck.
The play gave the Bengals an improbable 21-10 halftime lead any squashed any hope of the Browns coming back on Cincinnati’s home turf. While some of those rare Hail Mary conversions are ones we see at the end of contests, this one gave the Bengals both the lead and confidence to put Cleveland away for good in Week 7.
As this season has gone for the Bengals, Green’s catch might mean more to the Bengals than just catapulting them to a 3-4 record. It might be something that resurrects the team from the listlessness we’ve seen through the first six weeks of the season.
In a season that has been marked by one-sided officiating, poor player performances and major personnel turnover, one play that was wrapped in luck might change the tide for the Bengals. A struggling team can sometimes rally around one miraculous play.
Look, even when the Bengals seem to do the right things, it has blown up in their faces this year. Such was on display on Sunday when Shawn Williams finally grabbed an interception, only to fumble it away on the return. Yes, this happened after Green’s miraculous catch, but the point is that the team should recognize a fortunate bounce finally going their way this year.
Much has been made of the Bengals losing to quality teams this year, but of equal note is the amount of winnable games coming up on the schedule. Confidence isn’t necessarily lacking with the Bengals, but many following the team have had trouble attempting to point out what they are specifically good at in 2016.
The talent is apparent on the Bengals’ roster, but acclimating to new personnel, both in the coaching and player ranks, has been the theme to a 3-4 start. Sometimes it’s one player or a singular moment that galvanizes a team for the rest of the year.
“It just gives our guys confidence,” Dalton said of the Hail Mary. “We know we have the potential to play this way and we need to find a way to do that each week. That’s the biggest thing you can take from this. We made big plays, the running game was great, and we just need to feed off it.”
What do you think? Are we making too much of the Green Hail Mary, or do you believe it to be a turning point in the Bengals’ 2016 season?