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. 8:
ANDY DALTON'S SAFETY SACK
When: Oct. 31, 2013
Where: Sun Life Stadium, where the Bengals lost to the Miami Dolphins in overtime, 22-20.
What happened: Remember, this is called "Ten plays that shaped the Bengals' year." Plays that shape and frame the way a season aren't always going to be good ones. When you have a mostly successful year like the Bengals did, though, they aren't all bad, either.
For now, we look back at the third-down Dolphins rush that resulted in a walk-off sack for a safety. On the play, a third-and-10 from the shadows of the Bengals' own end zone, Miami defensive end Cameron Wake stunted inside on a rush that brought him away from right offensive tackle Andre Smith, and directly into right guard Kevin Zeitler. It didn't appear Zeitler was ready for the move, and as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton dropped back to the goal line to pass, the offensive lineman was driven backwards. Without good leverage, Zeitler couldn't keep Wake out of the backfield, and the Pro Bowl end sprinted right on by, diving toward Dalton and slamming him to the end zone turf.
Right away, officials signaled for a safety, claiming that Dalton was brought down beyond the goal line. Since it was a scoring play, though, the replay booth was forced to review whether the ball was in front of the plane of the goal line when Dalton was hit. It was close. After careful review, officials determined that the ball had broken the plane when forward progress was stopped. He was stopped in the end zone. Had officials been able to see the ball in front of the goal line and not in the end zone -- even if Dalton's body was in it -- they would have been able to signal the ball down at the Bengals 1. That would have led to a fourth down, a looming punt, and the possibility to still hang on in a 20-20 tie for a chance to win. More than six minutes remained in the overtime when the sack came.
What they said about it: Dalton: "My eyes were downfield, and he [Wake] was there pretty quick." (Dalton added that he thought he was outside the end zone.)
Coach Marvin Lewis: "I thought the ball was out of the end zone. ... I don't get it, I don't know. That's from a quick look at the board. They got a better resolution to look at it than I do."
NFL head of officials Dean Blandino: "We had a great look at it, a shot right down the goal line. And when Wake first makes contact with Dalton, the ball is breaking the plane of the goal line. If any part of that ball is breaking the plane when the contact occurs, and he's driven back into the end zone, that's a safety."
Wake: "You just have to do whatever you can to get to the quarterback. [The sack] couldn't have come at a better time. How much better could it have been than to have a D-lineman seal the deal?"
How the Bengals' season was impacted: The loss stalled a four-game winning streak and kept alive the notions that the Bengals couldn't win big games and that they couldn't win on the road. Cincinnati dropped to 0-3 on the road following the defeat, and fell once again in a nationally televised contest. Although they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night earlier in the year, this Thursday night loss only added to the notion that Dalton wasn't a big-game quarterback. He had two interceptions in the game, including one that resulted in a pick-six thanks to a throw behind the intended receiver. This was the first of two overtime road losses in consecutive weeks, and signaled the end of "October Andy." Until this game, Dalton was stellar in the month of October. His 4-0 record and 11 touchdown passes in the month's first four games earned him AFC Player of the Month honors. He was awarded those honors hours before taking the field in South Florida. That loss ended up later impacting the Bengals' seeding in the playoffs.