Ten plays that shaped Bengals' year: No. 9

Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season has ended, and coaching changes have kicked off the unofficial start to the offseason, we're counting down the 10 plays that helped shape the Bengals' 11-5, AFC North championship season.

Big plays, particularly those from Cincinnati's defense, and explosive ones from the likes of Giovani Bernard, were critical to the way 2013 played out.

As is the case with most top 10 lists, determining these plays was completely subjective. They could be placed in virtually any slot among these 10, or not among them at all. Some certainly won't make the cut that many believe should. It's the nature of lists. Somewhere a cut off has to come. Anyway, let's get back to it, with No. 9:


When: Sept. 8, 2013

Where: Soldier Field, where the Bengals lost to the Chicago Bears, 24-21.

What happened: After helping the Bengals defense hold on a crucial third-down stop late in the fourth quarter of the season opener, linebacker Rey Maualuga committed the regrettable error of retaliating for some post-whistle grabbing and shoving. As Bears running back Michael Bush was stopped at the end of a 1-yard gain on a third-and-6 rush, Maualuga and Bears right offensive tackle Jordan Mills got tangled up. Mills continued to push and block Maualuga after the whistle. Maualuga didn't like that. Off instinct, he grabbed Mills just as attention was being turned from the pile, and threw the lineman down, body-slam fashion.

A flag came out immediately, and Maualuga was slapped with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty that completely negated the key stop. It was Cincinnati's eighth penalty of the game. Had the infraction not occurred, the Bengals would have gotten the ball back on a punt with about 40 seconds remaining on the game clock. Down 24-21, it would have been enough time for them to possibly drive into position to kick a game-tying field goal, or to score a game-winning touchdown. Instead, that opportunity was negated with the penalty when the Bears retained possession, were given a first down and kneeled the last two plays since the Bengals were out of timeouts. An 11-point second-half Bengals lead was effectively nullified.

The penalty was one Maualuga instantly regretted and apologized for immediately. He thought often about the penalty for the rest of the season and resolved himself to controlling his behavior. For a Bengals team that would end up getting other infractions for retaliating throughout the year, the play would end up serving as a true teachable moment.

What they said about it: Maualuga, 10 days later: "There was nothing I could say [to coach Marvin Lewis]. It was over. But I told him I'm sorry for taking it over the top. He said it was a stupid mistake, but that you can't put this on your shoulders because it wasn't just you that lost the game. ... Who knows what could have happened? In a perfect world we might have drove the ball down and got enough space for our kicker to kick a field goal to tie the game and hopefully win. But nobody will know."

Lewis: "We had a lot of guys unfortunately lose composure. We can't do that. ... For whatever reason, we didn't get any offsets [penalties]. Their guy hit our guy out of bounds late on the sideline [that led to another retaliatory 15-yard penalty in the game], but we can't retaliate. We know that. It's not what our team does. And unfortunately, we let them get under our skin.

"We can't beat ourselves like we did this afternoon."

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict: "They were talking a whole lot. We're at their home and some guys just didn't ignore it. ... That's something we need to learn from and be happy it happened now instead of in the playoffs or later on in the season when it really counts.

"The second guy always gets called. That's what I always say."

How the Bengals' season was impacted: It's tough to truly say the play and eventual loss impacted the Bengals' season because it all came in the first game of the year. They had plenty of time to clean things up, and did. Still, there was a chance the could come back and win that game. If they had, and the rest of the schedule played out the way it ultimately did, they would have finished the regular season at 12-4, and would have earned the AFC's No. 2 seed entering the playoffs. With that No. 2 seed, they would have had a first-round bye and hosted the following week. Maybe they would have ended up winning that divisional-round game, and ending the more than two decades long playoff win drought that was extended three weeks ago.