Friday, November 1, 2013

Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Miami Dolphins 22 (OT) - October 31, 2013

The second half of my 2013 NFL Road Trip began in Miami with the suddenly potent Cincinnati Bengals in town for another Thursday night game, the seventh on the journey. It was Halloween and lots of fans showed up in interesting costumes, including this Dolphin cannibal with the conquered helmets of the AFC East teams along with the Bengals, that night's victims.

I had been here before way back in 2001 to see the Marlins. At that time, it was known as Pro Player Stadium (one of seven names the venue has had over its lifetime) and hosted the Marlins. It was a horrid ballpark so I didn't expect much, but was more than pleasantly surprised. Sun Life Stadium is a great football venue, especially for an evening game when the sun is no longer a concern.

With parking $25 and the post-game traffic reputedly horrendous, I decided to try transit. Tri-Rail is the South Florida Regional Transit rail system and they provide shuttles from Golden Glades station. I decided to park my car one station south, which was idiotic as you can just park at Golden Glades and board the shuttle directly. This became painfully obvious when I sat on the train for about 40 minutes after the game, waiting for it to depart, but more on that later.

The shuttle bus drops you off near gate B, which provides an opportunity to take some shots from afar, such as the one above. As you can tell, the stadium is not that picturesque, and these odd-looking additions don't improve matters.

Walking around, you will see the Joe Robbie Plaza, with a statue of the late owner for whom the stadium was originally named. Keep walking to find another statue of Don Shula being hoisted on the shoulders of two of his players.

As you round the corner to the south end of the stadium, you will arrive at the main party plaza, with dozens of activities, including live music. A KISS tribute group was the appropriate choice for Halloween.

This is also where you will find the statue of Dan Marino (shown next to the Grim Reaper above, representing the Dolphins playoff chances) as well as some creepy wax-like figures of past Dolphin stars (below).

There was a good-sized crowd here before the game, but I had to get inside. There were plenty of tickets at the box office, which meant a chance to see if anyone had cheap extras. One gentleman had 4, but would not sell me a single, but I soon found another person who sold me one down low for just $20.

I waited outside the gates, above which the ramps are attractively decorated. Notice that there are only two levels, this is more obvious in the interior shot below.

This makes the upper level very close to the field. As usual, I wandered around taking a bunch of pictures from different angles.

The garish orange seats work well in the evening, and the coral blue club seats really stand out in the panorama shot above. The concourse is rather barren (below), but there are large posters commemorating each decade of the stadium's existence, with reference to the Dolphins as well as the Miami Hurricanes, the Orange Bowl, and the Super Bowls that have been held here.

Before the game, there was a very cool show for Halloween. The picture below doesn't do it justice, but all fans were given a glow-in-the-dark bracelet which they activated when the lights went off. The cheerleaders then came out and danced wearing costumes that were outlined with light. That's them in the green line below, trust me, it looked much more interesting in person.

When the cheerleaders came out for the game, they were wearing incredibly sexy skeleton costumes, with some of them wearing pant suits as well. Definitely the best I've seen so far.

They changed out of these midway through the second quarter, but few complained about their regular outfits.

After all that, there was a game to get to. And what a game it turned out to be. I've whined about Thursday Night Football before, but this one silenced those complaints.

The first quarter was scoreless, with both teams running quite a bit, to middling success. The big play was Cameron Wake (#91 above) sacking Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton, forcing a fumble which Miami recovered on the Bengal 25. But a 3-and-out led to a 34-yard field goal, which rookie Caleb Sturgis (below) missed.

Cincinnati got on the board early in the second quarter with a Mike Nugent field goal, but Miami responded well on their ensuing possession, with Lamar Miller (below, during warmups) running 41 yards towards what looked like a sure touchdown, only to have Carlos Dunlap dive at him from behind and force a fumble. The ball bounced perfectly to Adam Jones in the end zone, who returned the ball 43 yards. A shockingly impressive defensive play by Dunlap that cost the Dolphins 7 points.

The Bengals could do nothing with their good fortune and punted, and Miami again drove the ball well, taking it 93 yards and using nearly six minutes, with Ryan Tannehill scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 7-3.

The big play on this drive was a Miller run for 3 yards; the reason it was big is that Bengals star lineman Geno Atkins tore his ACL on the play, taking him out for the rest of the game and sadly, for the rest of the season as well. I have seen a number of season-ending injuries to key players on this trip, but this was probably the worst, simply devastating news for the Bengals.

The game must go on though, and late in the quarter, the Bengals were driving when Dalton (#14 above) was intercepted deep in Bengals' territory and after the Dolphins went 3-and-out, Sturgis managed a field goal to make it 10-3 at the half. Twitter commentators were calling it a "scary" game to try and get it to fit in with the holiday but it was anything but. There were some mistakes, but both teams were playing solid defense. Think back to that San Francisco vs. St. Louis game for something that was truly frightening.

Anyway, the second half is when things really got going. The Bengals started with the ball and drove 73 yards to the Miami 10 when Dalton again threw to a corner only to be intercepted. This time Brent Grimes (above, arriving for the game) returned the ball 94 yards for a pick-6 and it was 17-3 Dolphins.

The Bengals started again on offense, and another long drive resulted with Giovani Bernard scoring on a 3-yard run to pull Cincinnati within seven. The Bengals had run 27 plays over the first 12:50 of the quarter and I expected the Miami defense to be tired. Sure enough, on their first possession in the fourth, Bernard ran for a 35-yard touchdown in which he probably covered 80 yards, first going right, avoiding a couple of tackles, and then going back to the left, scampering through the exhausted Dolphin D all the way to the end zone. This tied the game at 17 and I was sure that the Bengals would have no problem scoring again, but Dalton was intercepted for a 3rd time when Mohamed Sanu couldn't hold on to a throw.

Jimmy Wilson (#27) and Marvin Jones fighting for position in the end zone

Again Miami's offense stalled, and after Brandon Tate returned the punt 15 yards (below), the Bengals began what should have been their final drive. They forced Miami to take two time outs, but on 3rd and 4 from the Dolphin 36, Dalton threw an incomplete pass, stopping the clock with 1:29 to go. This play cost the Bengals the game - if they had run the ball, Miami would have been forced to use their final timeout, but they kept it and used it later on. Nugent hit a 54-yard field goal to give the Bengals the 20-17 lead, and many fans started to leave, believing the Dolphins had blown a 17-3 lead for the second week in a row. Idiots.

After the kickoff, the Dolphins started from their own 24 and Tannehill was sacked on the first play. Remember that leftover timeout? It was used here to stop the clock, and Tannehill collected himself in the meantime, throwing for completions of 16, 9, 5, 21, and 6 yards, with four of those going out of bounds to keep stopping the clock. This put the Dolphins in field goal range, and after Marvin Lewis used a timeout to try to "ice" the kicker, Sturgis nailed the 26-yarder to send the game to overtime.

The Dolphins won the toss but went 3-and-out, giving the Bengals a chance to win the game with a score. They drove to the 39, but stalled. Rather than attempt the 57-yard field goal (well within Nugent's range in these perfect conditions), Lewis had his charges punt. On Miami's first play, Mike Wallace beat Terence Newman and was about to catch the winning touchdown pass when Newman tripped him. The 38-yard pass interference penalty saved the game for Cincinnati, and when Miami couldn't capitalize on their field position, they punted again, with the ball downed on the Cincinnati 8. With both teams having trouble, I began to fear a tie, but then Wake decided to send everyone home to sleep. On 3rd down, Dalton retreated to the goal line and was sacked by Wake for the game-winning safety! I had moved to a seat right along the goalline and had a perfect view. The play had to be reviewed, but there was no doubt the ball had broken the plane of the goal line when Dalton was first hit, and Miami won 22-20! This was only the third time in NFL history that a game ended on a safety. Hey idiots who left early and missed this amazing finish, hope you beat the traffic.

Apologies for the long recap, but this was the best game on the trip and certainly the best experience. Everything here was really well done, and the fans who stayed to the end were rewarded with a memorable finish.

I had my own memorable finish too, thanks to Tri-Rail. The shuttle bus ride back was good, as they had the Dolphins post-game show on speaker. Arriving at the station, there were two trains, but they were on opposite tracks. The southbound train was on the northbound track and vice versa. There were Tri-Rail employees there to guide us, so I knew I was on the right train, but then it was a 40-minute wait for the train to get going, as more shuttle buses had to arrive. Finally we got going around 1:15 am, about 90 minutes after the game ended. When I was dropped off at Opa-Locka station (I was the only moron to disembark), I was on the wrong side of the tracks and they had closed off the staircase to the bridge over to the other side (above). Normally you could just walk across the tracks, but there was a fence in the middle and I did not feel limber enough to try to climb over, so I had to walk along the tracks until the fence ended and I could cross, walking back to the car. It really wasn't that big a deal as there is no more train traffic at that time, but it was dark and who knew what dangerous animals were lurking in the shadows on Halloween night.

Still, the game will provide some great memories for years to come. I can only hope I see another few like this one, with fantastic plays and a surprising ending.


There have been five overtime games in the NFL this season and I have seen three of them. The trip just keeps getting better.

Saturday is the 60th day of the trip, representing the halfway point. I will drive from Macon to Indianapolis, passing the 10,000 mile point as well. Still 15 games to go though, so keep checking back for updates.



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