On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre was in the process of engineering yet another fourth-quarter comeback, this time at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Trailing 21-14 and within the Cincinnati 30-yard line with less than one minute to play, the drive—and any subsequent momentum—came to an abrupt halt upon a fan running onto the field and casually taking the ball from a stunned Favre. The score remained unchanged, and the green and gold fell to 1-6 on the season.
Aaron Rodgers, then a 22-year-old rookie in his first season as the three-time MVP’s understudy, witnessed the bizarre incident from the sidelines. On Sunday afternoon, nearly eight years later, Rodgers, now a Super Bowl and regular season MVP himself, bore witness to yet another cruel late-game twist of fate for the Packers within the Queen City.
Nursing a 30-27 edge over the Bengals and facing fourth and inches with four minutes remaining in regulation, Rodgers handed off to Johnathan Franklin, the lone healthy back on the green and gold roster, who leaped for a first down and the de facto knock-out blow.
Instead, the ball was jarred out of the grasp of Franklin, playing in his first NFL contest, and eventually corralled by Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman, who sprinted 58 yards to the end zone for the game’s final points.
When the ensuing Packers drive failed to result in a touchdown, Green Bay, courtesy of the 34-30 defeat, fell to 1-2 for the second consecutive season with an early bye week looming.
“We learned some valuable lessons,” said 11th-year Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, according to The AP, “and survived one today that you don’t survive very often.”
Such is an outcome, however, which seemed unlikely heading into the final game’s final quarter.
Withstanding a pair of touchdowns from Cincinnati within the game’s first six minutes, and a Bengals defense which limited Rodgers—who entered the weekend boasting the league’s second-highest quarterback rating—to two completions and the Green Bay offense to 35 total yards in the first quarter, the green and gold, on the strength of four takeaways, led 16-14 at intermission.
Despite holding a two-point lead, though, the Packers, who have not defeated the Bengals since 1998, did not enter the locker room unscathed, as Jermichael Finley (concussion), Clay Matthews (hamstring) and James Starks (knee) were sidelined for the rest of the contest due to injury.
When the second half commenced, Rodgers and the Green Bay offense appeared to be finally be in sync.
Beginning with a 26-yard completion to Randall Cobb, Rodgers, who tossed for 244 yards (26-of-43 passing) and one touchdown, orchestrated a nine-play, 80-yard drive to open the third quarter, culminating in the first touchdown of Franklin’s career.
Cincinnati, who committed turnovers (three fumbles and an interception) in four consecutive drives in the first half, punted on their subsequent possession, pinning the Packers within their own ten-yard line. Undaunted, Rodgers, who was harassed into his first multiple interception affair in 41 games, marched the Packers 92 yards in five plays to stake a 30-14 lead with 5:30 to play in the third quarter.
With the Cincinnati offense floundering—amassing 76 total yards and three first downs since their opening drive—and Rodgers hitting his stride, the momentum appeared to favor the boys from the Dairy State.
Yet, as is wont to happen on any given Sunday, the game’s narrative was turned on its head.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who churned out 235 yards through the air on 20-of-28 passing, began to get hot, connecting on his first two throws on the Bengals’ next drive. Following a 17-yard run from second-round draft pick Giovani Bernard, who tallied 99 yards (50 rushing, 49 receiving) of offense, Dalton found AJ Green alone on the right sideline for a 20-yard score.
While Dalton was starting to right the Bengals’ ship, Rodgers, who was sacked four times, became unraveled over the next two Green Bay possessions to the tune of two interceptions over his next five pass attempts following the Cincinnati score.
The Bengals, who were trumped by Green Bay in time of possession (31:51 to 28:09) and total yards (399 to 297), pulled to within 30-27 with 10:55 to play when an 11-yard Dalton to Marvin Jones hookup put a bow on a 95-yard drive, the longest of the day for either squad.
Franklin, who became the second different Green Bay running back in as many weeks to surpass 100 yards rushing, accounted for 25 of the first 29 yards on the subsequent Packers possession. Upon getting the ball into Cincinnati territory, Rodgers, following enduring his fourth sack of the game, connected with Cobb for an 11-yard completion.
Originally ruled as a first down, the call was revered, setting up the tide-turning fourth and inches scenario.
In a game featuring eight turnovers, lackadaisical offense, hard-nosed defense and unanswered scoring spurts by its club, the Packers, to the dismay of the 2011 NFL MVP, were unable to do enough to earn their first road victory of the season.
“It was a frustrating game,” noted Rodgers, whose squad will return to action on Sunday, Oct. 6 when they play host to the Detroit Lions, as reported by The AP. “We spot ‘em 14, score 30 in a row and they get 20. I played poorly and the defense played well enough for us to win.”
Cincinnati, who became to first club since the Cowboys in 1999 to win a game in which they allowed 30 straight points, meanwhile, earned their first victory against an NFC North foe since 2009.
“We didn’t flinch,” cited Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson, who registered three tackles, according to The AP. “You expect a great team like that to score.”
Indeed, but, as it turned out, not enough.