Hue Jackson, who heads up the NFL's seventh-best offense, is set to remind his players how they got to 8-2.
Third-and-two. 1:14 left. Bengals down by three. They've got the ball on the Arizona 25.
Do you run it to help exhaust the clock for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer since he has no timeouts left? Or do you go for the win knowing an incomplete pass and a tying field goal gives Palmer about a minute to get the winning field goal?
On Monday afternoon, with no sleep, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson defended his call and quarterback Andy Dalton's decision to exploit wide receiver A.J. Green's matchup in what turned into a nightmarish sequence. The ball went incomplete on a play that took only six seconds, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent tied it with an ultra-clutch kick, and Palmer took three passes and 38 seconds to get the winner.
And Jackson still would have done it with Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson sidelined with an ankle injury and someone named Justin Bethel covering Green. Bethel, a 2012 sixth-rounder out of Presbyterian, had played 161 snaps this season before playing 21 Sunday night
"Oh my God, we have our best player against -- their best corner was on the sideline. He was done," Jackson said. "So you've got your best player out on the field and the safety is standing in the middle of the field, so you've got to take that shot. Game over. On something which a lot of people would say is routine, we missed. I mean, we're going to always stay aggressive."
Jackson says to blame him. It appeared Dalton had choices because it was zone read that had both Dalton and running back Giovani Bernard as running options. But when Jackson saw Bethel getting no help against Green, he knew where Dalton was going.
"We left ourselves out there for me to be questioned about it. I take responsibility for it. Nobody else's fault but mine. I made the call, and I knew exactly where the ball was going when I looked at the defense," Jackson said. "I go 'Oh boy, here we go, game over.' It didn't happen that way. So, that's how it goes."
What surprised Jackson is that Dalton missed the throw. Green had Bethel beat by at least a step down the right sideline and if Dalton had kept leading him instead of throwing it short enough to hit Bethel's shoulder pads, the Bengals lead, 35-31, and the Cards have to score a TD.
The game came down to the deep ball. Palmer misfired on one that turned into safety Reggie Nelson's fifth interception of the season, but he cashed three of at least 18 yards for TDs that included a 64-yarder to rookie wide receiver J.J. Nelson.
Dalton hit a 42-yard bomb down the left sideline to Green to set up a TD, but he couldn't connect with him late and he overthrew a wide open Marvin Jones with a line drive for what would have been an 86-yard TD in the third quarter.
"How many times do you see games end like that, when teams throw the ball?" Jackson asked. "I'm not trying to speak highly of Pittsburgh, but Antonio Brown, I've see him one on one, they throw it to him and he scores. We would hope that we're in line with some of that. But again, it didn't happen that way. I can understand where the second guessing will come from, but I'm not going to shy away from that. We got an opportunity and we missed. If we hit it, you guys wouldn't ask me these questions. But we didn't."
In the end, the Bengals put up 31 points and 377 yards on a top three defense. A good outing, but he knew there was too much left out there. The idea he'll push this week is to keep ascending.
"This is a good team. We're a really good football team. We know that," Jackson said. "At the same time we can also be an average team just like anybody else. If you don't cross the Ts and dot the Is and don't do it day in and day out every play with the way you have to do it. I think our guys see that.
"We understand that and hope that reinforces the things we talk about, so hopefully that heartbreak doesn't happen later on. There is value in all these things. There is a lot of value when you don't win like this sometimes. You can really point to some things that have your group grow and that's what I hope to do."
REPORT ENDS QUEZ's SEASON:
According to reports, the Bengals are about to put their first player on season-ending injured reserve since the season started when cornerback Darqueze Dennard goes on the list with shoulder surgery.
Citing a league source, ProFootballTalk.com reported the development less than an hour after Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he had no update on Dennard, injured in his first NFL start in Arizona Sunday night. So it's unclear when it's going to be official.
Dennard, the club's 2014 first-round pick, got hurt when he attempted to defend wide receiver John Brown on an 18-yard slant in the second quarter for a TD. That leaves the Bengals with two healthy corners in Dre Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall since Dennard was playing in place of the injured Adam Jones (foot).
Dennard's injury forced Hall to move out of the slot and be replaced by fourth-round pick Josh Shaw. Shaw had played just four scrimmage snaps until Sunday night, when he played 17 and drew praise from Lewis for how he held up.
It will be interesting to see if the Bengals replace Dennard on the roster with the man whom followed him No. 1 in the draft, rookie tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi, rehabbing an ACL tear from a year ago, has returned to practice but is still not on the roster.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in week 11 of the regular season