CINCINNATI — Perhaps being filmed by HBO's Hard Knocks crew should have prepared the Cincinnati Bengals for Sunday's season opener.
The Denver Broncos handed the Bengals a lesson in the School of Hard Knocks, pulling out a 12-7 win on Brandon Stokley's miraculous 87-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left.
The score came 17 seconds after the Bengals had taken their only lead, 7-6, on a 1-yard touchdown run by Cedric Benson and Shayne Graham's extra point.
The sudden reversal made a winner of Josh McDaniels in his debut as Denver's coach and stunned what was left of a Paul Brown Stadium-sellout crowd of 62,831.
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The winning play fueled memories of Pittsburgh's "Immaculate Reception" and LSU's "Bluegrass Miracle."
Facing second-and-10 from his own 13, and with 28 seconds on the clock, quarterback Kyle Orton fired a pass for Brandon Marshall. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall tipped the ball near the Denver 35-yard line. Stokley caught the ricochet 8 yards up the field and outran linebacker Rashad Jeanty for the score.
When Jeanty pulled up, Stokley had the presence of mind to run across the field at the 1, taking off a few more valuable seconds, before stepping into the end zone.
The play called, McDaniels said, was "All go. Fittingly enough."
The plan was to get near midfield, call a timeout, then try to pick up another 20 yards or so to put Matt Prater within field-goal range.
"Everybody was going vertical," said Stokley, who ran a lane down the inside edge of the numbers, while Marshall was along the sideline in front of the Denver bench.
As the ball neared Marshall, Stokley said he "was watching, hoping he would make a catch. All the defenders went over there, and fortunately it bounced to me."
What Stokely didn't know was if he had a clear path to the end zone.
"My mind was just racing with what I should do when I got the ball," he said.
Does a defender "have an angle" to make a play? Go out of bounds to stop the clock? Stay in bounds and use a timeout? Do we have a timeout?
But he quickly sensed that he was pulling away.
The play was Stokley's only reception of the day.
"You're basically two tackles from winning the football game at that point," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said. "You don't get situations like this in practice to prepare for, but we got it today unfortunately and didn't execute it."
Hall took responsibility: "I should have knocked it down or picked it off."
Overshadowed by the fantastic finish was a stout effort by the Cincinnati defense.
The only points of the first half came on Prater's 48-yard field goal as time expired.
His 50-yarder late in the third quarter made it 6-0.
The Bengals moved the ball at times during the first half.
Shayne Graham's first-quarter 28-yard field-goal try never unfolded as a high snap from Brad St. Louis eluded rookie holder Kevin Huber for a loss of 35 yards.
In the second quarter, Cincinnati reached the Denver 27 before University of Kentucky product Wesley Woodyard picked off a deflection.
"That was really special," Woodyard said of his first NFL interception. "It came off a batted ball from Champ (Bailey). I just had to be there at the right time and make the play for my teammates."
The Bengals did nothing on offense in the second half until their final possession.
They drove 81 yards in 11 plays. Benson, who finished with 76 yards on 21 carries, scored over right guard from about a foot out.