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. 7:
JAMES HARRISON'S NEAR PICK-SIX
When: Nov. 17, 2013
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns, 41-20.
What happened: After losing to the Browns in Cleveland earlier in the season, the Bengals appeared headed toward another loss, this time at home, to their bitter in-state division foe. As the game entered the final minute of the first quarter, the Bengals trailed 13-0 and had just punted the ball back to the Browns. Momentum was fully on the visitor's sideline. The boo birds had arrived already, too. Fans fed up with back-to-back losses the previous two weeks, and with what looked like the beginnings of another disappointing outing from Andy Dalton, were letting their voices be heard. Three-and-outs at home from such a high-powered offense will do that.
But on the first play of the Browns' final drive of the opening quarter, the energy that had been on Cleveland's side completely shifted, thanks to Bengals linebacker James Harrison and one of defensive end Michael Johnson's fingers.
As Browns quarterback Jason Campbell delivered a short pass to his left, Johnson stuck up his hands as he was being awkwardly blocked to stop his rush off the left edge. When he did, the ball nicked him just enough that it wobbled off course. Harrison, who had dropped back in coverage on the play, saw the disrupted flight path and tried to catch the ball. He ended up juggling it a couple times before finally fully getting his hands on the interception and sprinting with the ball. Using his big frame and relatively low center of gravity, he slipped a pair of tackle attempts by Browns offensive linemen and carried a third across the goal line for an interception return for a touchdown.
But officials huddled up and removed the touchdown from the board, saying Harrison was aided on one of his broken tackles by a block in the back by defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. While the points came off the board, the play itself still brought life into the stadium and apparently galvanized the Bengals. After they scored on the ensuing offensive possession, their defense forced two straight three-and-outs before blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown and then forcing a fumble and returning it for a score on the defensive drive after that. In an instant, the Browns' two-score lead evaporated, and Cincinnati was up 28-13 and not looking back.
What they said about it: Defensive tackle Domata Peko: "That was crazy. I haven't seen anything like that -- so many points in a couple of minutes and the momentum changing so fast."
Coach Marvin Lewis: "The defense did a really great job of getting some turnovers and getting us jump-started on offense."
Dalton: "There was so much game left, and you can't get down at that point. It's kind of how I've been and how I am. I try not to get too high or too low with whatever's going on in the game. We didn't let it [the early deficit] affect us. We came and we kept playing. We got some big plays on special teams and defense that helped us out and gave us some spark."
How the Bengals' season was impacted: After Harrison's interception, the Bengals went on a 41-7 run across the final three quarters, powering themselves to yet another home blowout. All but two of their home regular-season games were won by two or more scores. The Bengals were 8-0 at home in the regular season.
This particular game got them back on the winning side of the ledger. Following losses to Miami and Baltimore in the games that immediately preceded this one, the Bengals picked up a much-needed win ahead of their bye week. They were able to coast into the off week with a win, a 7-4 record and still well in control of the AFC North. They needed that win to kick off a five-game stretch to close out the season that included games at San Diego and Pittsburgh. The Bengals ended up going 4-1 in that final pivotal stretch.