Five to Treasure
Continuing a review of the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati, here’s a look at the five best games — one from each year — of his tenure.
2003: My personal favorite from this season was the Bengals’ week 13 victory over the hated Steelers in Pittsburgh when, with less than a minute to play, QB Jon Kitna led the Bengals on a 52-yard TD drive to win the game. But the greatest Bengals game of 2003 — and one of the greatest of the Lewis era — was indisputably the week 11 victory over the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. It was also WR Peter Warrick’s finest hour in stripes. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals clinging to a 10-6 lead, Warrick would take a punt back 68 yards for a score. The Chiefs responded with a 5-play, 92-yard touchdown drive of their own, but then it was Warrick’s turn again. Kitna hit him wide open over the middle and 77 yards later he was in the end zone. Though the Bengals would end the season at 8-8, their slaying of the 9-0 giant served notice to the league that the team was no longer a pushover.
2004: The Moment. You don’t always know it when it happens. Often it’s apparent only in hindsight. Sometimes, it never comes. But when it does, and does so in a way that’s unmistakable, well, all you can do is stand and gape in awe. And that is exactly what countless thousands of Bengals fans did on Sunday, December 5, 2004.
There was no warning that The Moment was approaching. The Bengals had gone into Baltimore for their second meeting with the Ravens, and it wasn’t looking like it would turn out much different from the first encounter, a 23-9 Baltimore victory at PBS in week 3. For three quarters, the Ravens defense shut down the Bengals, allowing only a 41-yard Shayne Graham field goal. Nearing the end of the third, Baltimore had built a 20-3 lead, that score including a laughable Ed Reed/Chris McAlister interception return for a TD that sent many a Bengals fan channel-flipping in disgust.
If only they’d known.
After the Reed/McAlister debacle, the Bengals got the ball back and drove to the 50 before failing on a 3rd-and-1. With :28 left in the third quarter, QB Carson Palmer led a dejected Bengals offense off the field.
The Moment had arrived.
Ravens return man B.J. Sams muffed the punt, and it was recovered by Bengals special teams linebacker Marcus Wilkins. Barely 12 seconds after he had left the field, Carson Palmer trotted back on.
Except…it wasn’t Carson Palmer. Not the Palmer Bengals fans had watched all season. The second year rookie, the promising Heisman winner, all that was gone. Because The Moment had come. For Bengals fans everywhere, who had suffered through David Klingler and Jeff Blake and Neil O’Donnell and Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith and Jon Kitna, The Moment had finally come.
The Franchise was here.
And we watched and we gaped and we screamed until our throats were raw as The Franchise led the Bengals on not one, not two, but three fourth-quarter touchdown drives. We prayed as the defense came on the field and couldn’t believe it when they gave up just two FGs as the Ravens tried desperately to counter The Franchise. But The Moment cannot be stopped. The Franchise got the ball back on the Bengals 34 with 1:37 to play. The Franchise drove to the Baltimore 6, and with :02 left on the clock, kicker Shayne Graham capped off a 27-26 win that Bengals fans will never forget.
2005: Pittsburgh. It had to be Pittsburgh. It was week 13 and the Bengals were 8-3. The Bengals, who had not seen a “9” in their win column in 15 years. It was week 13…and it was Pittsburgh — where the Steelers were 7-4 and making their own run for the postseason. Pitt had already bested the Bengals in their own house 27-13 in week 7. The rematch would be a wild game in which each team’s QB would throw 3 TDs, but Ben Roethlisberger threw three picks as well. The Bengals’ defense also forced a pair of fumbles and held Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis to a combined 84 yards. The 38-31 victory, sealed by a Justin Smith sack on 4th-and-13 with 1:34 remaining, gave the Bengals their first — and still only — winning season since 1990.
2006: There’s no shortage of Bengals fans who will say that WR Chad Johnson is over-rated. Well, he certainly lived up to whatever rating you’d like to give him on November 19, 2006, when the Bengals traveled to Nawlins to meet the surging Saints. Ocho Cinco caught six balls for 190 yards and 3 TDs in the Bengals’ 31-16 drubbing of the Saints. While the defense allowed Drew Brees to throw for a ludicrous 510 yards, they also intercepted him three times, compared to allowing just two passing TDs. Among Bengals fans, the game may be best-known as Ethan Kilmer’s coming-out party. A college wideout drafted by the Bengals in the 7th round that year, Kilmer was strictly a special-teamer. But injuries at DB during the game forced the Bengals to throw him into the fire in New Orleans, his first defensive appearance. In just his fourth defensive snap, Kilmer snagged an errant Brees pass and took it 52 yards to the house — the Bengals’ longest interception return of the season.
2007: Last year started off good and then was all downhill. The Bengals opened the season on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens, and a surprisingly stout defense led by DE Robert Geathers and DT Michael Myers, each of whom had a pick, got the Bengals off and running with a 27-20 win. Madieu Williams had seven tackles and a forced fumble, giving what turned out to be false hope that he was returning to the form he showed in his freshman year. Ahmad Brooks was a monster at MLB with five tackles, a forced fumble and a sack, but would be lost for the year with a groin tear suffered during the game. But for at least a week, Bengals fans could dream. Then we got creamed in Cleveland and the long, depressing slog that was the ’07 season began.