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. 6:
A.J. GREEN'S HAIL MARY HAUL
When: Nov. 10, 2013
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, where the Bengals lost to the Baltimore Ravens in overtime, 20-17.
What happened: If held up on its own, this play probably would appear higher on this countdown. "Ugly" was probably the best word to describe the penalty-filled, mistake-riddled mid-season AFC North contest. This pretty play, though, very nearly ended up saving the Bengals from the disappointment they ended up feeling later.
After taking a sack and spiking the ball with four seconds remaining in regulation, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton huddled the offense together near midfield. Cincinnati was down seven and in need of a miracle if it was going to force overtime and have a chance to steal a win. Dalton's only charge to his receivers was to go deep. It was Hail Mary time.
With a sturdy passing pocket in front of him, Dalton dropped back and tossed up a prayer into the strong winds that had been swirling throughout the stadium and knocking down passes all afternoon. Even this one was a bit shorter than he intended, but it hung in the air just long enough to rattle off the mass of hands and helmets at the goal line. After a bounce off Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, the ball went flying toward Ravens safety James Ihedigbo. With little time to react, he stuck up his hand. Instead of swatting it down, he tipped the ball even higher and deeper into the end zone.
There, looking up just in time to see the ball was Bengals receiver A.J. Green. He lost track of it as he sprinted toward the goal line and ended up drifting to a spot in the end zone just in case there was a chance the ball ricocheted in that direction. It was a smart decision. When the ball came back, he leaped with two hands and caught it for a clutch touchdown. Fans sitting in front of the press box were so stunned they looked up at reporters, mouths agape and shook their heads in disbelief. The play was so relieving for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis that a moment right after the Hail Mary was caught, a smile flashed on his face as his proudly stuck up one finger, calling for kicker Mike Nugent to bury the PAT that would send the game to overtime.
What they said about it: Green: "I was in the right spot at the right time. We talk about that a lot. I was just looking for someone to tap the ball so I could catch it. I stood off to the side and watched. I was thinking about coming back closer to the ball, but I stayed right where I was and the ball found me. It would have been a greater play, though, if we had won."
Dalton: "I just threw it up and hoped for the best. ... That's something we never practice, but we do talk about it. When I called the play, I just reminded everybody what to do."
Ihedigbo: "[Ravens safety, and former Bengal] Jeromy Miles, he's the jumper. He's tall, long. He's supposed to jump up, tip the ball. My job's to be back, almost in the back of the end zone. I saw the ball get caught in the wind, so I knew it was going to hit the end zone. I knew it was going to be short, so I moved up. Bonehead move. I moved up a little bit. I just should have stayed back. It probably would have fell right in my lap. I saw it drifting, tried to slap it to the ground. It went up in the air; easy touchdown."
How the Bengals' season was impacted: As you've read, the Bengals ended up losing the game, thereby making the AFC North playoff race tighter. With a home game against fellow division foe Cleveland the next week, they were hoping a win on the road against a Ravens team that was beginning to pick up steam would extend their division lead and all put the race to bed. It didn't. A win against the Browns on Nov. 17 did help the Bengals ultimately win the division, but it wasn't until Week 16 before the Bengals were finally about to close out the third AFC North title. Because of how poorly the Bengals played offensively for much of the game, they were resolved in the coming weeks to get back to a true run-pass balance. In a win against San Diego two games later, it showed up.