he play was called 46 M Lead, and because the Cincinnati Bengals failed to gain a yard with it, they lost the Super Bowl to the San Francisco 49ers today.
It was fourth and one at the San Francisco one-yard line with less than two minutes left in the third quarter and the 49ers leading, 20-7. The Bengals had botched three previous tries inside the three, and on the fourth, 249-pound fullback Pete Johnson was stopped for no gain by 49ers linebacker Jack Reynolds.
"It's a play that always works," Johnson said later in the Bengal locker room. "I usually get the ball in that situation. Unfortunately, I guess they could see it was coming and they made a helluva play. I love getting the ball in that situation. I want it. It just didn't work out this time."
Why did the Bengals run on the right side on that play, instead of the left, behind massive offensive tackle Anthony Munoz? "It's been a successful play for us all year long," said quarterback Ken Anderson, who got the play on the sideline during a timeout.
"Sometimes it goes over the top and sometimes it goes underneath," said Bengals Coach Forrest Gregg. "We just got no movement on it and they filled the holes. We'd gone to the other side before (on second and one from the one on the same series) and didn't get it in. So we tried something else."
The 49ers defensive linemen hit low, and Bengal tight end Dan Ross, who also was blocking on the play, said two linebackers filled the gaps the moment the ball was snapped. Reynolds was credited with the hit, but at least five other 49er defenders were around Johnson and the ball.
"There were just too many people in there," said Ross, who caught two touchdown passes today and set a Super Bowl reception record with 11 catches.
"Reynolds just shot for the tackle gap and got there right away. It felt like we had no chance right from the start. I'm sure they studied our tendencies, but usually that doesn't make much of a difference for us. We've run it so often successfully, they just happened to stop it, and it turned the game around."
There was only one 49er defender around the ball on the previous play, third and goal from the one. Anderson threw a pass in the right flat to running back Charles Alexander, and he was hit immediately by linebacker Dan Bunz for no gain on a stirring open field tackle.
"The man made one great play on me," Alexander said. "I never saw him coming. He arrived as soon as the ball arrived. I had no chance to get my feet down for some second effort. I don't even know who hit me, to tell you the truth. I just know we didn't get it in, and it would have changed the game around.
Lindy Infante, the offensive coordinator who called both plays, said Alexander had to change his pattern ever so slightly to avoid Bengals receiver David Verser, who had gone in motion to that side of the field.
"It was just one of those things," Infante said. "There was a little bit of a traffic jam because the cornerback jammed Verser and Alexander had to take an extra step back just to avoid him. If he doesn't have to take that step, when he catches the ball, he's in the end zone. It was that kind of day."
That it was. On the first two plays of the series, the 49ers had only 10 men on the field, according to United Press International. Right outside linebacker Keena Turner inexplicably was on the sidelines when Johnson plunged, first for two yards, then for one yard. Teammates confirmed Turner's absence and said he was on the field the next two plays.
The Bengals started off playing blunder ball on the opening kickoff when Jim Breech kicked out of bounds and got a five-yard penalty. They also had first and goal at the 49er five early in the first quarter but failed to score when Anderson was intercepted on third and 11 by Dwight Hicks.
They lost two fumbles, had two interceptions, and fielded 49ers Ray Wersching's ground ball kickoffs as if they were emulating the New York Mets in the early '60s.
"You can't get that close and not score," Anderson said.
"We didn't play as well as I thought we could play. We were really playing kind of nervous that first half," Alexander said. "I don't know why it just didn't feel right for a long time."
Ross said the team was awestruck when it took the field.
"It was just like stage fright. It took awhile for us to get used to it and get it out of our system," he said. "I was in awe of everything. When we first came out I was hyperventilating. I couldn't breathe. I think when we walked on the field it finally hit me where we were--in the Super Bowl.
"The big difference is that they played loose and we didn't. They didn't let it get to them."
At halftime Gregg said there was no screaming, no tantrums from him or his players. "I just told them we had spotted them 20 points and it was about time we played some football. We'd been down 21-0 to Seattle in the first game this year and won, and I told them we could do it again.
"They were kind of dejected. It almost looked like they were afraid to make mistakes. But we gave it a helluva run coming back at 'em. I was proud of them. They didn't quit all year, and they didn't quit today."