In the Cincinnati Bengals media release, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis said, “this is the first time I’ve ever been on the field with Michael Vick. I’ll be excited. There’s nobody like him. It’s a great challenge for us. You have to limit his explosiveness.” A great challenge it was as the Bengals’ defense failed to limit Vick’s explosiveness in a 29-27 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Oct. 29.
Remember the last time these two teams met? No? OK, here’s a history lesson. Sept. 22, 2002. The Bengals lost 30-3 in an embarrassing ESPN Sunday night game. That was just one of the many losses during that 2-14 season under Dick LeBeau. Remember names such as Jon Kitna, Corey Dillon and Neil Rackers? Is it coming back now? Are your ears burning? Thought so. Thank goodness those days are gone.
Things began much better this time around. On both sides of the ball, the Bengals came out firing on all cylinders. After Atlanta had taken a 3-0 lead on a 42-yard field goal by Morten Andersen, Carson Palmer led the Bengals offense on a 10-play, 74-yard drive that saw Rudi Johnson rack up 31 yards on five carries and finally pound the ball into the Falcon’s endzone for the first score of the day. Johnson wouldn’t get much more than that the rest of the day. He finished with 46 yards on 12 carries and the lone touchdown.
The Bengals still had the lead after another Andersen field goal. This time, it was a 40-yard kick for the 46-year-old Falcon kicker. Then, it was Chad Johnson – er, excuse me, “Ocho-Cinco’s” (as Johnson wished to be referred to during Spanish Heritage Month) turn when he caught a pass from Palmer at the line of scrimmage and found his way into the end zone for a 12-yard TD reception. It was “Ocho-Cinco’s” only TD catch of the game, and his 67th consecutive game with at least one reception. With 93 consecutive games, former Bengal Carl Pickens holds the club record.. Chad finished with a total of 78 yards on six receptions.
The shootout continued with Vick leading the Falcons 81 yards into the Cincinnati red zone and ultimately hooking up with Alge Crumpler for a 16-yard TD pass. It was on this drive that we got a sneak peek at the Vick show that would premiere later in the game.
Shayne Graham added a 51-yard field goal before halftime and the Bengals took a 17-13 lead into the locker room.
What happened in that locker room during the half still remains a mystery. Although the Bengals began the day with a 3-1 record at halftime, today would be an exception. The Orange and Black were outscored 13-3 in the third quarter, as the only points would come on another Graham field goal.
Remember that Vick show you read about earlier? It’s showtime. Vick, who entered the match up dead last in the NFL in total passing yards, looked like a top 5 candidate against the ailing Bengals’ defense. Atlanta’s first third quarter score came on a drive that saw Vick scramble for 22 yards and cap off the drive with a 26 yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins down the left side.
Advantage Atlanta, 20-17.
The next Atlanta drive, Vick continued his stellar performance. On a second and seven pass from the Atlanta 43-yard line, Bengals linebacker Ahmad Brooks was called for a controversial roughing the passer penalty. This drive could have made or broken the game for the Bengals – and it broke them. Tack 15 yards onto the 22-yard pass on that play, and that provides the setup for the Falcons final touchdown.
A seven-yard rush by Vick, followed by a five-yard rush by Warrick Dunn, took Atlanta to the Bengals 8-yard line. It was here that Vick found fullback Justin Griffith for the Falcons final touchdown of the day, an 8-yard pass that gave Atlanta the lead 26-20.
Atlanta attempted a two-point conversion on the following PAT attempt, but it was unsuccessful. With the missed PAT, the Falcons still had the lead 26-20, and the game, by then, was still very winnable for the Bengals.
However, on Atlanta’s first drive of the fourth quarter, it was Andersen again coming through with his third field goal of the day. A 39-yard kick that put a Bengals win just a little further out of reach, Atlanta now led 29-20.
It was a two-score game for the Bengals. Not a big deal, they’ve done it before. Marvin’s guys were 2-1 when trailing after three quarters.
A huge defensive stand by the Bengals on an Atlanta third and four forced the Falcons to bring the punt team on the field and kick the ball away. With 3:49 left in regulation, the Bengals made the most of its opportunity. From its own 45 line, Palmer delivered a deep 55-yard touchdown pass to the newly returned Chris Henry. Add the extra point by Graham, and the Bengals trailed by two points, 29-27.
After Atlanta had eaten most of the game clock away, the Bengals had one last chance with 19 seconds left in the game. A 50-yard punt by Michael Koenen pinned the Bengals deep in their own zone, and gave Palmer and the Bengals offense 83 yards to go in only 19 seconds. A 6-yard pass to Tony Stewart was the only highlight of the final drive. As time expired, Palmer was sacked at the Cincinnati 18. Falcons win 29-27.
Palmer finished the day 24 of 36, for 266 yards and two touchdowns, but the real star of this game wasn’t a Cincinnati Bengal. Vick completed 20 of 28 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. To compliment those numbers, Vick also rushed for 55 yards on nine attempts.
With the loss, the Bengals fall to 4-3 on the season and now face a must win AFC North game at Baltimore this week. The Ravens defeated Baltimore 35-22 Oct. 29 and lead the AFC North with a 5-2 record.