Greg Hoard
Greg Hoard

Born in Indiana and educated in Georgia, Greg Hoard came to Cincinnati in the winter of 1979 as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post sports department, and joined the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1984 as the beat writer for the Cincinnati Reds.  He has received numerous awards for his work. In 1990, he left journalism for television. Hoard worked for WLWT-TV from 1990 through 1993 as sports director and spent 12 years as sports director at WXIX-TV. His written work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Baseball America, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day. He has appeared on ESPN and NBC’s The Today Show. Greg is the author of three books: Joe, Rounding Home and Heading for Home; Gary Burbank, Voices in My Head; and, most recently, Hannan’s Way, An Unlikely Trek Through Life. He is currently working on a baseball memoir, parts of which he will share here.


It was gut-wrenching, a killer. Marvin Lewis looked and sounded as if he were completely drained. “It was a tight football game,” he said. “We had our chances…You hate to lose one that way, but you go on.”

CINCINNATI — Seldom, if ever, has a football game changed so dramatically and ended on such a total dud.

After absolutely undressing the Denver Broncos in the first half, building a 14-0 lead against the NFL’s top ranked defense, the Bengals let it all get away Monday night at Mile High Stadium, losing 20-17 in overtime when A.J. McCarron lost the snap from center and the Broncos recovered.

This was the party that bombed, the date that backfired, the big check that turned out to be rubber.

“We had a chance to win and I messed up the snap,” McCarron said. “That’s on me.”

“This was so close I could almost taste it,” said Carols Dunlap, who recorded three sacks. “That’s what makes it so bad.”

To make matters worse, it came in the most important contest in recent Bengals’ history. At stake: the Number One seed in the AFC, a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. As things stand now, they are 11-4 and their place in the playoffs is secured, their spot in the stack is muddled.

Of course, the importance of gaining the first round bye was directly tied to the idea that an extra week would give quarterback Andy Dalton more time to heal the broken right thumb he sustained two weeks ago against Pittsburgh.

But all that was left on the turf in Denver, and largely in the second half when the Bengals just went away or wilted in the mile-high altitude.

In the first half, they played like a team capable of giving any body a run, and, yes, a team that could go very deep in the post-season, and that was with a quarterback making his second start in the NFL.

This much is clear. McCarron can play and he can fling it. On the Bengals opening drive, he engineered an 80-yard scoring drive on 17 plays that consumed half the quarter, 7:34. On third and goal at the five, he found A.J. Green who made a stellar catch over formidable corner Aqib Talib. It was 7-0 Bengals.

The Keyhole is proud to sponsor coverage of the Bengals on Press Pros Magazine.

The Keyhole is proud to sponsor coverage of the Bengals on Press Pros Magazine.

The defense followed suit by throttling Brock Osweiller’s attempts to get anything going. The second time the Bengals got the ball – a series that took them into the second quarter – McCarron drove the Bengals 90 yards on 13 plays, culminating with a six-yard TD run by Mohamed Sanu, who glided into the end zone untouched. It seemed Denver’s vaunted defense was either asleep at the wheel or completely unprepared for what the Bengals were throwing at them.

In the first quarter the Bengals time of possession was 12:10. Denver had the ball for 3:45. Even those most jaded by the Bengals breakdowns should have been impressed.

“We started fast,” McCarron said. “The only time we were stopped (in the first half) was when we stopped ourselves…”

On their third drive, the Bengals staged another march, but this one was fateful. The drive stalled and Mike Nugent lined up a 45-yard field goal attempt – completely within his range. He pulled it left.

At that point, the game changed – everything about it. There was 2:31  left in the half and in that short span, the Broncos climbed back in the game.

Mohammed Sanu's first quarter touchdown proved to the the Bengal offense's last highlight.

Mohamed Sanu’s first quarter touchdown proved to the Bengal offense’s last highlight.

After taking possession on the 35, the Broncos first three plays—all passes—covered 58 yards. Dunlap threw a wrench in the works with his first sack of the night and Denver settled for a 23-yard field goal just before halftime. Still, Cincinnati led 14-3.

But during the break, the world changed.

“They really didn’t do that much (differently),” McCarron said. “They picked-up some things…But nothing really.”

Denver went to a hurry-up offense, dropped into zone on defense, and with that – took control of the game.

The Broncos struck right out of the gate, Osweiller connecting with Emanuel Sanders for an eight-yard touchdown and pulling Denver within four, 14-10.

The Bengals countered with a three-and-out, their first punt of the game. More were to come – too many, too often. The dominance of the first half was gone.

Had the altitude taken its toll on the Bengals? Penalties began to pop up. The tackling was not as sure, and clearly the Bengals brain trust was not finding answers to the Broncos’ adjustments.

Three times in four possessions the Bengals went three-and-out the last of those from their own 20. Denver started on their own 48 and on their second play C.J. Anderson burst through the left side of the line, breaking several tackles, and running 39 yards for the score. It was 17-14 Denver.

The Bengals responded with a 52-yard field goal by Nugent to tie the game, 17-17. But they could do no more.

Denver had a chance to win the game in regulation, but with four seconds left Brandon McManus shanked a 45-yard field goal attempt so badly it was hardly in the same zip code.

He didn’t miss in overtime. He popped a 37-yard shot straight and true. Denver, 20-17.

The Bengals still had shot. But on 2nd-and-10 on their own 33, the snap got away from McCarron. DeMarcus Ware recovered the ball. Game over.

Afterward, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis looked and sounded as if he were completely drained. “It was a tight football game,” he said. “We had our chances…You hate to lose one that way, but you go on.”

He is a master of hiding his emotions. He’s had a lot of practice and occasion to do so.

McCarron has not. When it was all over, he was pretty direct. He said: “This really sucks right now, the way the second half went.”

In that sentiment, he was assuredly not alone.

The Keyhole is Proud to sponsor the Bengal's on

The Keyhole is Proud to sponsor the Bengal’s on