Any time that professional athletes take the field, they undoubtedly realize there are a few key moments in the contest that decide the outcome. Sometimes those instances are more plentiful than in other matches, but recognizing when the pendulum swung is key for a team to grow in the time leading up to the next game.
Such was the case on Sunday between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans. At times the game seemed very methodical, plodding even, but then, as it always happens in the NFL, supernova-like moments occurred. Fortunately for the Bengals, those explosions were ones imposed on the opposition, and were not of the self-imposed type.
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Rey Maualuga's Third Quarter Interception: The Bengals went into halftime grasping to a six-point lead. Though it seemed as if Cincinnati was in control most of the first half, a 9-3 score didn't really indicate it. The Texans also received the ball to start the second half, making things a little more uncomfortable. On the first play from scrimmage, Ryan Mallett dropped back and had a ball intercepted by an undercutting Rey Maualuga. He set the Bengals up nicely at the Houston 22-yard line, ultimately leading to a touchdown.
Jeremy Hill's Two-Yard Touchdown Run: It was Hill who became the beneficiary on the Maualuga interception six plays later. Big No. 32 walked in mostly untouched, so it wasn't all that exciting, at least as far as two-yard touchdown runs go. Still, this was a huge one because it was on third down, and the Bengals had already failed converting a fourth and one from the Houston one-yard line earlier.
Mohamed Sanu's First Quarter Touchdown Reception: Cincinnati's offense was clicking very well in the first half and they began marching in the first quarter. Andy Dalton marched his troops through 14 plays that were capped by a Sanu six-yard touchdown reception. The Bengals' No. 2 receiver did most of the work on the screen pass, pushing his way past the goal line amongst defenders.
Mike Nugent's 31-Yard Field Goal In Fourth Quarter: The first of Nugent's two attempts on the day was a biggie. Somehow, the Bengals had allowed 10 unanswered points and it felt as if the once-firm grasp that they had on the game was slipping through their fingers. After hogging the ball for 17 plays, Nugent's number was called on the 18th and he converted a field goal try that extended the Bengals' lead to a valuable six points.
Bengals Defense Forcing a Safety: Team morale was likely pretty low after the Bengals offense failed on a fourth down try from the Houston one-yard line. However, the Cincinnati defense decided to take matters into their own hands and get some points back. The very next play after the Bengals' offense failed, Mallett handed off to Alfred Blue to try and get breathing room. Instead, the defense collapsed the line and caused Blue to stumble and become vulnerable to being tackled in the end zone. Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey were the primary defenders that made the play happen.
Mohamed Sanu's Diving 10-Yard Reception In Fourth Quarter For First Down: Nugent wouldn't have received the chance to kick that 31-yarder, had a slew of third downs not have been converted. Perhaps the biggest on the drive was a diving reception on a third and nine by Sanu, moving the sticks and putting the kicker in a better position. It was a good throw by Dalton, putting it where only his receiver could grab it, but it was a heavily contested catch that required Sanu to make an outstanding play, as he did.
Mike Nugent 49-Yard Field Goal At Two-Minute Warning: With just a little time left and a six-point lead, the Bengals had left the door open for a possible Houston comeback. A critical Bengals drive stalled out, leaving their kicker in a precarious situation. Nugent was forced to line up for a 49-yard attempt: Make it and the game is essentially over, miss it and the Texans have good field position in a one-possession game. You know the rest.
Jeremy Hill's 30-Yard Run In Fourth Quarter: Helping to set up the big Nugent kick was a 30-yard sprint by Hill to take the ball deep into Houston territory. Hill wisely stayed in bounds to keep the clock moving, which was an impressive mental move by a rookie. Unfortunately, a five-yard loss by Giovani Bernard and a holding call on Ryan Hewitt made the field goal attempt that much harder, but Hill's run got the Bengals in a situation to put the game away.