Thank God for Early Doucet’s two left feet.
The Cardinals wide-out was mystifyingly left uncovered on fourth down with 1:11 left in the game and dashed into the end zone where QB John Skelton had lofted a perfect pass, but Doucet tripped over his own feet at the goal line, and the pass fell incomplete, virtually assuring Cincinnati of the 23-16 escape.
Of course, it should never have been that close.
The Bengals played a near perfect first half to secure a 20-0 advantage. The defense suffocated Skelton, RB Beanie Wells, and WR Larry Fitzgerald, collecting two interceptions and 3 sacks in shutting out the Cardinal offense through the first stanza. The Bengal offense meanwhile was superb, with 6 scoring opportunities in 6 first half possessions. If it wasn’t for Mike Nugent’s two missed field goals, the score could have easily been 26-0 at the break.
But teams have tendencies. Cincinnati’s tendency is to squandered second half leads with overly-conservative play and poorly-timed gaffes, and the Cardinals had won 4 straight thanks to late game heroics. Not a good mix.
After the Cardinals finally got on the board at 23-7, the Bengals started to get sloppy. First, a Cedric Benson fumble set up Arizona at the Bengals 39 with 9:19 to go. It took Skelton all of 4 plays and 1:34 to score with a 2-yard pass to TE Jeff King and a 23-13 score. The Cards went for two and failed.
After a squibbed kickoff, the Bengals got the ball back with 7:39 left and could only burn off a minute and 17 seconds before punting. The Cardinals quickly moved from their own 21-yard line all the way to the Cincinnati one, thanks in large part to some blown coverages in the Cincinnati secondary, but after a John Skelton fumble, the defense was able to force Jay Feely’s 29-yard field goal and a 23-16 Cincy advantage.
With 3:16 left in the game, the Bengals looked to run out the clock, but Cedric Benson’s first down carry resulted in his second lost fumble of the game, and 5th fumble in 2 games. I mentioned during the week that Benson’s ball security was a concern, and it proved almost fatal. Kerry Rhodes pounced on his second fumble recovery of the game, and the Cards were in great shape to force the tie.
But Early Doucet bailed the Bengals out.
The win, terrifyingly ugly as it was, nonetheless was exactly what the Bengals needed. They were able to beat a good team at home to keep their playoff hopes alive. It was something the Jets could not do, as they fell at home to the Giants 29-14.
Now, the Bengals playoff dreams, at one point fading fast and statistically shown to be at a mere 13%, are now within their grasp. The Bengals again control their own destiny. Beat Baltimore at home next Sunday, and the Bengals are in as the second wild card in the AFC. Unfortunately, thanks to the Steelers win over St. Louis, the Ravens will still have very much to play for on Sunday. The Ravens will need to beat the Bengals to win the AFC North and secure a first-round bye. A Ravens loss coupled with a Steelers win over Cleveland makes Pittsburgh AFC North champs and the Ravens the 5th seed.
If the Bengals are to punch their post-season ticket, they’ll get no kid gloves from the Ravens. Nonetheless, for the second time in 2 weeks the games fell the way Cincinnati needed them to. Now, with one game to play, this young and hungry Bengals team has their preseason goal right in front of them for the taking.
Sure would be nice to see a sold out PBS for that one.