Brandon Stokley heads upfield on the game-winning 87-yard touchdown reception. (AP photo)
Posted: 6:50 p.m.
This time, the blooper didn't get cut out of the final package.
"I've never felt like this," said Bengals running back Brian Leonard. "It's like getting beat on a blooper. A blooper play."
There was shock and disbelief more than anger and outrage after the Broncos stole the heart out of the Bengals and Opening Day with 11 seconds left Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Nearly an hour after Bengals cornerback Leon Hall tipped a pass in the air on the sideline at about the Bengals 35 and it somehow found Denver wide receiver Brandon Stokley at about the 43 running away from the secondary for a numbing 12-7 Cincinnati loss, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers could only say, "It hasn't hit me yet. I mean, that's something you see on Saturdays in college. That's something you see and you think that can never happen to you."
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who had just used the previous 5:43 in orchestrating some magic of his own with a 91-yard drive that gave the Bengals the lead with 38 seconds left, 7-6, was left shaking his head.
"I've never seen anything like that and I've been playing since I was six or seven," Palmer said. "'I've seen a Hail Mary thrown for a TD, but that's not a Hail Mary."
Hall, along with the rest of the Bengals defense, had been brilliant all day. Before that play, the defense had allowed just 215 yards and nine first downs, and Hall had two tackles and three passes defensed while helping hold wide receiver Brandon Marshall to four catches for 27 yards.
On this pass to Marshall as the Bengals dropped into a Cover 2 zone, Hall leaped and hit it in the air. His mates called it a fluke. He said it was the wrong play.
"I was trying to get it on the ground and it popped up on me," Hall said. "It was the wrong play because he caught it and scored. The right play would have been to get it on the ground or pick it off and I didn't."
Head coach Marvin Lewis suggested his people needed to be deeper on the play after safeties Chris Crocker and Roy Williams converged on Marshall.
"In that situation you have to understand that the main thing is to make the tackle," Lewis said. "You want to play deep. You do everything to make the tackle and go from there. We've got one timeout left ... call timeout, now you've earned yourself 20 seconds, you make another tackle and the game is over. You're basically two tackles from winning the football game at that point. You don't get situations like this in practice to prepare for, but we got it today unfortunately and didn't execute it."
Middle linebacker Dhani Jones heard it as well as saw it and he was one of the guys chasing Stokley.
"I think everybody kind of gasped," Jones said. "The ball's up in the air and I think everybody looks and wonders exactly what's going to happen next. You try to make something happen instead of watching what's going to happen on the play. Unfortunately it's one you wish you had back, but at the same time you have to give credit where credit is due and they made a good play and won the game."
How close did the Bengals come?
On the previous snap, Hall's partner on the snap, Johnathan Joseph, just missed an interception on a ball to Marshall on the other sideline at about the 30, but he was ruled out of bounds.
Stokley, who didn't have a catch all game, said it was an "all-go play" where all the receivers went vertical against what he called "a really soft Cover 2."
"It is tough to complete a long pass against that coverage," Stokley said "At that point, you're trying to just catch a break."
Told Stokley didn't have a catch until then, Hall shook his head.
"But he had one," he said.