The 3 Defining Moments of the Cincinnati Bengals' Regular Season
For the third year in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the NFL playoffs, and no matter what happens Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, it shouldn't take away from what's been a memorable 2013 season.
Amazing comebacks, heartbreaking defeats and irreplaceable players being lost did not stop the Bengals from claiming the AFC North division.
With that being said, here's a look at the four moments that helped define the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.
Comeback Against the Pack
The Bengals jumped out to a 14-0 lead in Week 3, only to watch the Packers score 30 straight points and take command of a Cincinnati team that still looked young and incapable of hanging with elite NFL teams.
Entering the season with a trip to the Super Bowl as their goal, the Bengals were facing their first test against a true championship contender, and they were failing it badly.
Trailing by 16 points in the middle of the third quarter against the Packers means certain death for any NFL team. With Aaron Rodgers on the opposing sideline, the Bengals would effectively need to shut out the Packers for the rest of the game while scoring three times, after having just turned the ball over four times.
It seemed like an impossible feat for an offense that had lacked the firepower to mount a comeback of that magnitude, but as was the theme for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals, they found a way.
It started with Andy Dalton finding his groove and leading two scoring drives that ended with a 20-yard touchdown throw to A.J. Green and an 11-yard strike to Marvin Jones that narrowed the deficit to 30-27.
But the play that ultimately gave the Bengals the lead and the win was the fumble-return touchdown cornerback Terence Newman scored late in the fourth quarter, and the excitement every Bengals fan and player was feeling that moment was best be summed up by the radio call from Bengals radio announcers Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham as it occurred.
That play ultimately gave the Bengals a 34-30 victory, and it was their first win over a perceived Super Bowl contender since Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins became the core players of this team. It ultimately gave this team the confidence that it was good enough to beat anyone.
Overcoming the Loss of Geno Atkins and Leon Hall
Speaking of Atkins, when he went down with a torn ACL against the Miami Dolphins two weeks after Leon Hall tore his Achilles tendon against the Detroit Lions, the Bengals suddenly had to go the rest of the season without two of their best players.
Atkins was viewed as the best defensive tackle and interior pass-rusher in the league, and Hall had become a shutdown cornerback, which is a must-have in today's pass-happy NFL.
It didn't help matters that the Bengals lost Atkins on the same night they lost in overtime to the Dolphins. And after another overtime loss the following week to the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati stood at 6-4 and just finishing with a winning record seemed like a daunting task.
But the Bengals would continue to rely on their defense, which finished the 2013 season ranked first in the AFC despite Hall and Atkins being out.
Cincinnati also finished with the AFC's second-best scoring defense, allowing 19.1 points per game. It is the first time that it has led the conference in defense since 1983, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Yes, the defense that lost its two best players still managed to finish among the best in the NFL, and it will be that same unit that ultimately determines how far this team advances in the playoffs.
Andy Dalton Throws Four Touchdowns to Marvin Jones
The Bengals entered their Week 8 matchup going against a New York Jets defense ranked among the best in the NFL, but that didn't stop a pair of Bengals from having breakout games.
Andy Dalton had arguably the best game of his three-year NFL career, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns to go with 325 passing yards on 19-of-30 passing.
But it was the recipient of those scores that was the biggest surprise, as second-year receiver Marvin Jones hauled in four scores to break the Bengals franchise record for most receiving touchdowns in a game.
''I'm keeping those,'' said Jones via USA Today.''I'll frame 'em or whatever. I usually dish them out. Not this game.''
It was the most receiving touchdowns in a single game since Randy Moss and Terrell Owens did it in 2007, and the 40-point win was the largest of Marvin Lewis' 11 seasons as head coach, according to Sports Illustrated.
This game was big for a number of reasons. It showed that the offense was finally capable of scoring against even an elite NFL defense, and that the Bengals D would not have to carry the team as it had for much of the past two seasons.
It also was significant in that the Bengals finally found a legitimate No. 2 receiver who could punish defenses for focusing their coverage on the All-Pro A.J. Green. Jones and Green would go on to become the only two Bengals teammates to record 10 receiving touchdowns in a single season, according to Bengals beat writer Jay Morrison.
But the biggest takeaway to come out of this game was that Dalton had finally shown he could be the franchise quarterback the Bengals needed him to be. That gamed capped off a fantastic month for Dalton, and he was eventually named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month.
The Bengals were no longer a defensively sound team with a game manager for a quarterback and an offense that had to be carried by the defense.
This was now a complete Bengals team and one that looks poised to make a run through the NFL playoffs.