In one of the more entertaining games this weekend, the Denver Broncos needed a fourth quarter rally and two touchdowns to hold off a late charge from the Cincinnati Bengals for the win 31-23. The momentum changed side numerous times in this back and forth affair, and in reviewing the game for identifying the "hero" and “zero”, I had plenty of candidates from both teams to look at for honoring in this matchup between AFC teams.
Hero of the Week – If we were looking simply at the game by quarters, I would say there could be four different players that could earn honors. In the first quarter, I was impressed with some of the early work of Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham, as he became a solid target for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. In the second quarter, Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker caught one of his two touchdowns, but I also was impressed with a couple of catches in traffic when his team needed a first down to keep a drive alive.
The third quarter saw Bengals cornerback Terrance Newman intercept two passes from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and help his team take the lead in the third quarter before the Broncos rallied with their late scores. I could have considered Denver special teams player Trindon Holliday for my third quarter honors as he returned the opening kick of the second half 105 yards for a touchdown, but he was involved with a bungled kickoff later in the quarter that put Manning and the Broncos offense on their own 1-yard line. The fourth quarter honors went to Manning, who shook off the two interceptions to lead his team to the win with touchdown passes to Decker and Tight End Joel Dreesen.
As far as the hero for the whole game, I’d have to go with Decker. He was outstanding in the first half, and while he contributed to the two interceptions, he made some solid catches in the fourth quarter to help his team to the win. Manning would be a close second especially after being intercepted twice, but I liked Decker’s resurgence slightly more to help the Broncos hold off the Bengals.
“Goat of the Week” – Special teams can often be the difference between victory and defeat in a close battle, and to me, the goat for this game is Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent. Nugent was good with his kickoffs and made three field goals on the day to complete a decent effort, but I felt his miss to end the first half was a huge momentum changing moment.
Nugent lined up for a 46 yard field goal to end the half, but his effort was pushed wide right and the Bengals went into the half down 10 to 3. However, Holliday returned the opening kick of the second half for 105 yards, and so a potential 10 to 6 margin was shifted to 17 to 3 within the span of two plays. I like that he rebounded with two good field goals later, but had he made the kick to end the first half, the game might have had a different outcome.
What I find interesting is that the four players I mentioned for hero of the week all had plays that could have led them to be goat for the week. Decker cut short two pass patterns that allowed Newman to intercept Manning in the third quarter, while Newman was victimized later by Decker’s second touchdown catch. Gresham had a few drops in key points while the Bengals were trying to rally late as well, and I suppose what this emphasizes more than anything is the margin between hero and “goat” is often exceptionally small.