November 28, 2014

The Closers

Remember the days when no lead for the Bengals felt safe? For years the Bengals were on the cutting edge of creating new ways to lose. I still wake up occasionally in a cold sweat, cursing Chuck Bresnahan’s name.

This year has been a refreshing reversal of those frustrating times. For this team, no deficit feels insurmountable. They are finally the ones snatching victories off the carpet with the clock running down instead of the ones fumbling and pick-6-ing them away.

Quite simply, they are the closers.

The Bengals have scored 166 of their 259 points (64%) in the second half, while the have given up only 86 of their 215 points (40%) allowed in the second half. They have outscored opponents 63-36 in the third quarter and 103-50 in the fourth quarter. That’s getting it done, peoples.

Five of the Bengals’ seven wins have come in the fourth quarter. But even though they are winning late, this does not feel like the Cardiac Cats of ’09 to me. These comebacks are coming from confidence and from guys figuring out opponents, not from pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

Take a minute to savor a tasty dish of the sweet memories of these 4th quarter wins this year.

CLEVELAND (#1) — Trailing by 4 with 4:31 left, Jay Gruden takes advantage of a confused Cleveland defense waiting for the play call, hurrying his offense to the line so that Bruce Gradkowski can lob a TD pass to a ridiculously wide open A.J. Green. Two minutes later, Cedric Benson blows the game wide open with a 39 yd TD run.

BUFFALO — Coming to town undefeated and having beaten the Patriots the week before, the Bills lead 17-3 at halftime. But the Bengals begin their comeback by scoring 10 pts in the 3rd. With 8 minutes left, Andy Dalton leads a 4 minute, 80 yd TD drive to set up his first TD run, which ties the game. The defense then holds and forces a punt. With 1:48 left, Dalton takes the ball at his own 19 and drives his horses 56 yds to set up the winning field goal as the clock expires.

JACKSONVILLE — The Bengals let a freshly acquired 3-pt lead slip in the 4th qtr when Blaine Gabbert hits a wide open Jason Hill (on a busted coverage by Reggie Nelson) for a 74-yd TD. In years before, that would have been a knockout blow. But after a failed drive Kevin Huber pins Jax on their own 2, the defense forces a 3-and-out. Matt Turk chokes up a 22-yd punt. Getting the ball in great position, Andy Dalton hits Jermaine Gresham on 4th-and-6 to set up a go-ahead TD run by Bernard Scott. Nate Clements then recovers an errant shotgun snap, allowing the Bengals to use up Jax’s TOs and melt most of the clock. The Jags try a Stanford-esque lateral-to-everyone play that (predictably) doesn’t work ends up with the ball in Geno Atkins’ hands to rumble for a 10-yd, kick-in-the-teeth TD.

TENNESSEE — After being a non-factor all season, Chris Johnson finally shows up to lead the Titans to a 17-7 advantage at halftime. But the defense makes adjustments during the break and blanks the Titans in the second half. In the 4th, Andy hits A.J. on 3rd-and-18 for a 20 yd gain, setting up a TD pass to Caldwell to take the lead. With 4 minutes left, Nate Clements strips Jared Cook to set up another field goal.

CLEVELAND (#2) — The Bengals seem somewhat unprepared for Peyton Hillis and again find themselves trailing 17-7 at halftime. In the 3rd qtr, the teams trade field goals, and then Dalton hits Green for 35 yds and Gresham for a 22 yd TD catch on consecutive  plays to close the gap to 3. In the 4th, Reggie Nelson picks Colt McCoy to set up a tying field goal. The teams trade two sets of 3-and-outs before Cleveland begins to drive for a go-ahead FG. But a crappy snap (that gave me flashbacks of Brad St. Louis) doomed the 55-yd kick. Taking over at the 45, Dalton hits Green on 3rd-and-8 for a 51-yd catch to take the ball to the 2. A false start by Nate Livings pushes them back to the 7, and Marvin chooses to make three obvious run calls to force Cleveland to use their TOs and set up the go-ahead field goal. The strategy works perfectly as Colt McCoy makes four throws but only completes one for 4 yds to turn the ball over and end the game.