Bengals fans left Paul Brown Stadium Christmas Eve pretty certain that reindeer can't fly. But they're not too sure about Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
Simpson's incredible goal-line somersault over Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington left Washington gaping at Simpson as if he were the Ghost of Christmas Past on a play that will make the highlight reels for many Christmases in the future.
Not only did the 6-2 Simpson clear the 6-2 Washington like an NCAA-record high jumper, he landed on his feet like an Olympic gold medalist gymnast.
"It was crazy. I couldn't do that," said fellow wide receiver A.J. Green, the team's resident superman. "I told him it was like in a movie."
This movie started on the Cardinals 19 with the Bengals leading, 10-0, late in the second quarter. Green went deep, running back Cedric Benson freed the middle on a pass route, and Simpson ran right to left across the 10-yard line wide open.
Quarterback Andy Dalton got it to him and there was no one near Simpson as he ran down the left sideline. Washington broke off Benson and raced to cut off Simpson and that's where the fun began.
"To tell you the truth, it was just instinct. I just saw the guy. It seemed like he was going to hit me and I didn't want to get hit, and I used my athletic ability and my jumping ability," Simpson said. "My mom and my dad and family blessed me with ... I've jumped over a guy before, but never did a flip and landed it ... I just made a play, man. It was instinct. It helped my team, and I just want to do anything possible to win games for this team."
At about the two-yard line Simpson launched himself into the air just as Washington was going to put a shoulder into him. He ended up standing about three yards deep in the end zone.
"That was one of the key points, me sticking the landing," Simpson said. "I don't think if I stuck the landing, it wouldn't have been as exciting. But you know, I stuck the landing like a gymnast. A lot of the guys gave me a (perfect) '10' on it. I think it was like a '9' maybe, because I touched the ground with my hand a little bit. But I just wanted to make a great play for my team — you know, have a Merry Christmas and just be happy."
Which is how this holiday special turned out, 23-16. It turned out that Simpson's touchdown was the Bengals last of the day. And most memorable of the season.
Even though he's made amazing enough catches to put his Coastal Carolina games on YouTube, this one surprised Simpson, too.
"Yeah, that one was one of the most surprising to me out of all the plays in (my) career because it was pretty awesome, I think," he said.
Think about how Washington felt.
"He said, 'Don't jump on me like that again,' " Simpson said. "But back to what I said before, I just want to do anything possible to help my team win."
No worries. Simpson finished with five catches for 42 yards and it sums up his first NFL season as a regular. Patches of brilliance and stretches of inconsistency. Since he had eight catches for 152 yards in Baltimore back on Nov. 20, he had either two catches or no catches in every game until Saturday.
"He's not normal," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "The guy's got freakish talent and ability. He gets to show it from time to time. When he locks on and puts his head down, he's going to be something special."
Whitworth has seen Simpson in action during practice, so the athleticism didn't shock him. But the landing did.
"I thought he might vertically jump over the guy and land," Whitworth said. "The flip was a nice added touch."
Get used to it. We'll keep seeing it on the shows.
"The best thing I'm going to go see is 'Bengals won.' You know, it's not all about me," Simpson said. "The Bengals won, and I did my part to help us win … I was glad I got to the end zone to help us win."