Bengals second-guess passing play call

CINCINNATI -- Jay Gruden was just minding his own business Monday afternoon, walking through the Cincinnati Bengals locker room when it was suddenly invaded.

Newspaper reporters, Internet reporters, TV reporters and their big, bulky cameras all power-walked through a set of double doors that happened to open the moment the offensive coordinator was taking a leisurely stroll through the locker room, on his way back to work after grabbing a chilled bottle of water.

"That's the last time I walk through here to get a bottle of water," Gruden said, drawing a chorus of laughter.

As a longtime NFL assistant, a former Arena Football League head coach and the brother of a former NFL head coach, Gruden knew what was about to happen. He understood the drill. So when he was asked to pause for a few questions about how his unit performed in Sunday's 24-21 loss to Chicago, he politely obliged.

He didn't just stop for a moment or two, either. Gruden ended up holding court with reporters for nearly 17 minutes in an impromptu grilling session that covered everything from Andy Dalton's quick-trigger, needle-threading throws, to A.J. Green's bobble that led to a Bears interception, to Cincinnati's run-pass imbalance, to the controversial decision to pass instead of run on second down in the closing minute of the second quarter.

For the purposes of this particular post, let's focus on that final issue. Just what in the world happened on that second down?

"Obviously, it wasn't a very good play call," Gruden said.

"That second down" was the second-and-14 the Bengals faced with 59 seconds remaining in the first half of a game they were leading 14-7. Positioned deep in their own territory, Cincinnati knew there wasn't much hope for moving the ball downfield and scoring before the half ended. So, entering the drive, the Bengals decided to get as many first downs as they could and just focus on running the clock down and keeping the ball from the Bears' offense.

"I did the calculation in my own head and [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] said, 'Run it on first down,'" Gruden said.

So, the Bengals did. But a blitz by the Bears' linebackers stunned Cincinnati's front and bottled up running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He lost four yards, pushing the line of scrimmage back from the Bengals' 12 to the 8.

With the now infamous second-and-14 looming, a play that caused many Bengals fans all sorts of consternation and agitation Sunday, Gruden started thinking about Lewis' other insistent wishes.

"He made it clear we needed a first down, too, to run the clock out," Gruden said.

So, to get closer to the first-down marker from 14 yards away, Gruden called for a pass. Specifically, he called for two routes. One involved getting tight end Tyler Eifert around the Will linebacker. The other involved a quick pass to Green in the flat. Dalton decided to go to Green, who tightly covered by Sam linebacker Lance Briggs, who had made the stop the play before. Green stretched out for the pass, but it was too hot and Briggs was too close.

The ball fell incomplete. It was now third down and the clock was stopped.

"I tried to call a conservative passing play," Gruden said. "Didn't think that play would be incomplete, but it was. ... It was a conservative pass play, not designed to get a lot of yards, but it had a chance to get a lot of yards if A.J. runs through it, or Tyler runs through the back side. So it was a low-risk, high-reward type pass. The risk bit me in the [rear].

"It ended up being a terrible call."

On the third-and-14, the Bengals ran to the left side for a seven-yard gain. With 50 seconds on the second-quarter clock, the Bears took a timeout just ahead of a punt. On the ensuing punt return, Cincinnati's Dre Kirkpatrick was flagged for a 15-yard personal-foul penalty after getting into a shoving match with a Chicago player along the Bengals' sideline. Instead of being in their own territory, the penalty put the Bears on the Cincinnati side of the 50.

Four plays later, Robbie Gould hit the longest field goal in Bears history when he made a 58-yarder that cut the deficit to four.

Few could have foreseen the sequence that played out to allow that field goal to even occur.

Even still, Gruden added that if he had the entire last-drive sequence to do all over again, he would have "run it three times, bang, bang, bang and punt," regardless what happened on first down.

As great as hindsight might make that sound, his head coach doesn't want Gruden dwelling on the decision.

"You can sit there and second-guess," Lewis said to reporters. "If we get a good punt or if we don't get the penalty ... there's a lot of things that went into them kicking a 58-yard field goal at the end of the half. There's a lot of ways to look at that. Right now, everyone is looking at the negative of it.

"You can always look and second-guess it when it doesn't go your way. I can second-guess it more than all you guys in my own mind. There's enough of that going on."