Reggie Nelson intercepted the football with 3:36 remaining in a game that was tied 31-31.
It felt like the continuation of a momentum shift that began with Adam Jones' 97-yard kickoff return, capped by a Jeremy Hill three-yard touchdown run.
This was it.
Nelson's interception precipitated an eventuality that would celebrate another victory once the fourth quarter concluded. Cincinnati was going to claim victory, improving their record to 4-1, as one of the conference's best teams. Jeremy Hill picked up two yards to the Carolina Panthers 22-yard line. On the next play, Hill scored a touchdown from 22 yards out and the Bengals celebrated a 37-31 advantage, pending the extra point of course.
Nope. Nullified. Andre Smith was called for an offensive hold... a penalty that confused Cincinnati's starting right tackle. "He said I grabbed," Smith said via Bengals.com. "I didn’t think he called it on me. I thought he called it on Mo (Sanu). He said I grabbed him. I don’t understand that."
A frustrated Smith was called for a false start right after that. Mohamed Sanu recovered 16 yards through an Antoine Cason deflection. Dalton poorly overthrew Dane Sazenbacher out of the backfield, forcing Mike Nugent to convert the 38-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 34-31 lead.
Yet, let's not underscore this third down play... Carolina's front seven were eliminated, as was half of the Panthers secondary. Sanzenbacher only had to beat two defenders with Mohamed Sanu lead blocking. Hell, a first down was almost guaranteed. A touchdown... yea, totally possible.
To recap: After Nelson's interception, Smith is called for two penalties, putting the Bengals into a second and 23. Dalton nearly had the football picked off by Cason, but Sanu bailed him out with awesome concentration. When Cincinnati had a manageable third down situation, Dalton overthrew Sanzenbacher on a play that may have led to a touchdown.
And for all of his faults, Nugent converted the 38-yarder and Cincinnati had a 34-31 lead with 2:11 remaining.
Let's go defense!
Carolina, from their own 20, opened with a pair of Cam Newton runs that gained 13 yards, reaching the 33-yard line when the two minute warning hit. Newton found Greg Olsen for 16 yards on the next play. Let's examine...
Clean pocket? Check.
Open receiver. Check.
Access to the sidelines. Check.
We don't like playing the blame-game, but holy shit. Carolina not only gained 16 yards on the play, they had complete access to the out-of-bounds marker with only one timeout remaining. It only took six seconds off the clock. Now they were close to midfield and all they needed was a field goal.
Three plays later and the moment of truth arrives. Who wants it more, is what we imagine a coach saying during a timeout. The Panthers have fourth and two from the Bengals 43-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. No field goal here... too far. Newton rushed a buck-seven on Sunday. It's not like he'd run the football on a critical fourth down scenario with the game on the line.
Well... that was easy.
Carolina used their final timeout.
With 45 seconds remaining in regulation, Newton found Kelvin Benjamin on a five-yard slant with 2-3 yards of separation from Adam Jones. Benjamin juggled it but since there weren't any defenders close to separate player from ball, Benjamin secured it and reached the 29-yard line. Now we reached a manageable field goal position.
Following an incomplete, Newton hits Brenton Bersin underneath. Emmanuel Lamur tackled Bersin while in-bounds and the clock hit 12 seconds. Carolina, having already extinguished their final timeout, scrambled to the line of scrimmage. When the clock reached six seconds, the officials stopped the clock with Lamur riving in pain. Carolina clocked the ball with five seconds remaining after play resumed, allowing Graham Gano to convert the game-tying 44-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
Let's recap: After the Nelson interception, Andre Smith was called for consecutive penalties. Dalton, who nearly had one football picked off, overthrew Dane Sanzenbacher on third down... a play that probably would have won the game. Cincinnati's defense didn't protect the sidelines, nor account for Cam Newton's legs on a critical fourth down conversion.
Both teams exchanged field goals in overtime, with Nugent putting Cincinnati back in the lead (37-34) with 8:40 remaining in overtime. Cincinnati, in a position to win the game, finished with a 37-37 tie after Nugent pushed his 36-yarder wide right.
When you're fingerpointing, blaming and being an ass-clown to players on twitter, just remember, Nugent was part of Cincinnati's issues on Sunday, but not the complete cause. Cincinnati was golden in these situations last year, mostly from our reliance on the team's defense. Things happened and it didn't work out as we had hoped. At least it's still early enough in the season to recover from it.