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Bengals May Have Kicked Late Field Goals Sunday To Win AFC Crown In Re-Imagined Scenario Vs. Broncos

Had shoes been on other feet, the Bengals might have gone for late field goals against Denver in the AFC title game and booted the Broncos.

Bengals fans, take heart. For here is a cautionary retelling of the tale called, it happens to the best of them.

So much for the genius of Bill Belichick, right?

New England could have kicked a field goal on the first of its final three possessions and potentially gone on to win Sunday's AFC Championship game at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The Patriots' esteemed head coach eschewed kicker Stephen Gostkowski at the end of three drives in the red zone in the final 6:03 after the NFL's leading scorer missed an extra-point kick earlier in the contest, his first postseason miss.

The Broncos, as you might have heard, beat the Patriots, 20-18, sending quarterback Peyton Manning one step closer to a nice ride into the Rocky Mountain sunset, ala his boss, John Elway, king of the sunset riders.

Had New England decided to kick a field goal on the first two of its final three possessions, things might have played out differently, as well. In that scenario, the Patriots would have needed merely a field goal to beat the Broncos in the final seconds instead of a touchdown, which they got, and successful two-point conversion, which they didn't, to tie it.

Come to think of it, that's probably what conservative Bengals coach Marvin Lewis would have ordered in the final 7 minutes of Sunday's battle for the AFC crown and a berth in Super Bowl 50. Even with aggressive former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson at his side saying 'go for the touchdown' Lewis might have raised three fingers each of the final drives against Denver had it been his Bengals taking on the Broncos.

Let's re-imagine Sunday's thrilling AFC title game conclusion as a Broncos-Bengals final, and view it through the prism of our Bengals experiences.

The Patriots have it fourth-and-1 at the Denver 16. They keep Gostkowski on the sideline despite the fact that an approximately 38-yard field goal pulls New England to within 20-15. It stays 20-12 when quarterback Tom Brady throws incomplete short left to wide receiver Julian Edelman, killing an 11-play, 63 yard drive.

In the same situation, the Bengals' Lewis very likely would have taken the points in a virtual gimme, and ordered Mike Nugent to kick the short field goal.

The Broncos offense, which wasn't doing a whole lot in the final quarter Sunday, went three-and-out on the ensuing drive after totaling three yards. Brady and the Patriots drove 57 yards on eight plays to fourth-and-6 at the Denver 14. At that point, with an earlier field goal in the bag, an approximately 32-yard successful Gostkowski field goals pulls New England to within 20-18, with 2:25 left. But the Patriots spurn their kicker. Instead, Brady throws incomplete short middle to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Denver ball.

The Broncos went three-and-out again, this time for no yardage, for the second straight possession. This is an outcome that coach Lewis might have guessed, had it been his Bengals defense on the field against the struggling Broncos offense instead of Belichick's.

New England got the ball back first-and-10 at midfield with 1:52 remaining. The Patriots drove eight plays, capping the scoring drive with a four-yard TD pass from Brady to Gronkowski with 12 seconds left.

At that point in one of our momentarily re-imagined scenarios as the Bengals being the Patriots, a touchdown tacked on to the earlier choice to go for the field goal could have put Denver down, 21-20, with 12 seconds left.

Ball game. Broncos lose.

Three successful chip-shot New England field goals on its final three drives also would have netted the nine points necessary to rally past the lucky Broncos. What would Lewis have done? It's interesting to ponder.

However, Brady's ensuing real-life two-point conversion pass to Edelman failed, getting picked off by former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, setting up a failed Patriots onside kick attempt, sealing their fate.

Manning and the Broncos went into the victory formation at the New England 38 with 11 ticks left. Manning took a knee, and the Broncos took a bite out of Belichick's game-day reputation as a sideline strategist.

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