This is a Retro Bowl challenge where I use just defensive star players (plus a kicker for the memes). In this "episode" I plan on starting my first game, doing my first draft, and trying to see just how badly I've screwed myself.
Dee Fence is a new head coach to the league. I don't remember what college the game auto-picked him to be from, but let's call him Nick Saban's DC in an alternate-universe Alabama. He's hired by the Cincinnati Bengals in week 17 of the (in-game) 2020 season to take over for Zac Taylor (or maybe in this universe they didn't fire Marvin Lewis yet?). These 4-11 Bengals have generated into an interesting scenario: if they beat the 9-6 Steelers, and the 9-6 Browns can beat the 8-7 Ravens, then the 9-6 Texans just need to win against a hapless 6-9 Jaguars team to knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. That's right; this week 17 game for a new head coach has playoff implications.
The Bengals kick off, and the Steelers score a touchdown in short order, making the extra point. The Bengals get a good return, and the offense takes the field; for star players Lukas Diggs, Darren James, and Keaton Jensen, it'll be their last time suiting up for the Bengals. Dee Fence has made it very clear he's going to trade them all away in the offseason. A 51 yard pass to James is followed by a 3 yard screen to Jensen. Diggs throws an easy, almost walk-in touchdown to James, and we've got a tied game again. Diggs throws to James again, this time near the right middle of the end zone, for two. The Steelers drive to about midfield, stall, and then miss a 43-yarder that would have put them up 2. The Bengals take over again. A 14 yard pass to James is followed by a 53 yard touchdown to Jensen, who made 3 guys miss and narrowly avoided a 4th to score. The two point conversion falls incomplete, so it's a 7 point lead. The Bengals somehow manage to force a 3-and-out. Hey, Steelers, this game has playoff implications, remember?
Anyways, a pass to James is broken up, but he gets 27 on the next attempt. Diggs finally manages to place a lob pass over 2 defenders and into James' arms for a 22 yard touchdown. Jensen takes the screen left for 2, only having to shake off one would-be tackler. Hey, Steelers, again, not that I'm complaining, but you're down 15 to a 4-11 team that could very well knock you out of the playoffs. ...And they fail to even get midfield on a Hail Mary to end the half. Alrighty then. At halftime, the score is Bengals 22, Steelers 7. That's right; that touchdown to open the game is the only points the Steelers have scored all game.
To start the third, the Steelers kick off to the Bengals. A 3 yard pass to the tight end is followed by a 6 yard Jensen run. On third and inches, Diggs is all too happy to let Jensen try for it.
He comes up short.
"Fine," Diggs says to himself. "I'll get the 6 inches my own damn self." A QB sneak produces a couple yards and a first down. Jensen picks up 16 on the ground, then Diggs finds James for 40 yards and a touchdown. The two point conversion comes from another screen left; the score is now Bengals 30, Steelers 7. The Bengals somehow gather another 3-and-out, and so the 4th period begins with the Bengals having the ball at the Steelers 46.
Jensen picks up 45 on the ground, as Fence seems happy just running the clock. A quick shovel pass to Jensen gets the TD. This time, the two point conversion is achieved on a screen right. Bengals 38, Steelers 7. The Steelers fumble the ball at the Bengals 40, and Lukas Diggs dives to the ground to mercifully end Dee Fence's first victory as a head coach.
Unfortunately for Dee Fence and any delusions of playoff decision grandeur, the Browns also lose, leading to a 3-way AFC North tie that Pittsburgh somehow wins, leaving them as the 4 seed. His first victory as an NFL coach did nothing but lower his team's draft pick. Still, there's brilliance there, and it's clear that he knows what he's doing. Now for the 2020 playoffs, and the 2021 draft.
In the 2020 playoffs, things get off to a great start with the Steelers blowing out the Raiders 45-24. The Ravens upset the Texans 29-10, which sets the stage for AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 30-24, and the Cardinals get demolished 29-3 by the Seahawks. The Chiefs dismantle the Steelers 47-20, the Ravens double up the Bills 32-16, Tampa Bay beats the Saints 27-13, and the Seahawks beat the Packers 27-22 (as they are wont to do). Baltimore blows the doors off of KC 41-13 to become AFC champs, while the Buccaneers and Seahawks play to a much more respectable 21-13 Buccs win. The final score in the Super Bowl is Buccaneeers 27, Baltimore 18.
Now to begin the mess that is Dee Fence's "winning" strategy.
True to his words, Dee Fence trades away Lukas Diggs, Keaton Jensen, and Darren James for 2 seconds and a third. With those picks, Dee Fence establishes a 5 star defense (no, really!). These players are:
Also on the roster is K Dandre Karras, whose ~7 Kick Accuracy, 3 Kick Range, 2 Speed and 4 Stamina are unlikely to help this team much. (The Kick Accuracy is nice; the rest of it, not so much.)
Now to see just how screwed I am. Roll the tape:
It begins, as all good games do, with my opponent getting the ball. The Ravens get a touchdown in short order, missing the extra point. A good return sets the Bengals up at their own 29. An incomplete pass is followed by a 9 yard completion to the tight end. The running back gets nothing, so on 4th down, I throw to the top of the screen, where my WR gets 15 and a first. Another incompletion on first is followed by a quick screen for 5 to the runningback. Another screen gets 4, but an incompletion on 4th kills the drive. My five star defense holds, and I get the ball back at my own 24. A screen to the runningback gets 8 and a half, so I start the 2nd quarter down 6-0 at my own 32.
I hand the ball off to my runningback, who (no joke!) takes advantage of a collapsed left side, makes 3 men miss at once, and picks up 24 for a first down into Baltimore territory. A quick toss to the TE nets me 5, a quick screen to the runningback nets me 4, and another screen nets me another 4 for the first down at Baltimore's 31 with 1:10 left in the 2nd. A quick toss to the WR outside nets 7, and a more patient toss nets me 9 for a first down. My first redzone visit without offensive star players is now, with 0:55 left in the 2nd of my first game. The tight end takes a pass, shakes off a safety and takes a leisurely 15-yard jog to the end zone. I go for two, and forget that my no-star QB has basically no accuracy. The Ravens drive and kick a 27 yarder to take the lead back. A quick couple of completions to my WR get me into range, and Karras ties it back up with a 47-yarder off the right hash. Halftime score? All tied at 9.
I get the ball at my own 33 to start the 2nd half. A quick screen to the RB nets 7, and a well placed pass to my WR nets me 11, getting me a first down in Ravens territory. A shovel to the RB nets me 2, a screen left gets me 6, and a screen right gets me another 6 and a first down at the Ravens' 34 and a half. A pass to the TE nets 6, a screen nets me almost 4, and a QB sneak nets me the 1 I need to convert a 3rd and inches at the Baltimore 24. A quick toss to the WR with the defense in off-man coverage leads to almost 10; the refs give me the first down anyways at the 14. A screen right nets 2 (I misread the defense), and the TE catches a quick toss over some blitzing LBs to put me at the goal line as the 3rd quarter reaches its close. We're still tied at 9, though that's about to change.
I intentionally throw the ball away on 1st to cycle the play, wasting 3 seconds but netting me a position from which I can probably actually hit a QB sneak. Sure enough, on the very next play, the QB scores what has to be the slowest QB sneak I've ever seen. The RB stiff arms a corner to get in for the 2 point conversion. Bengals 17, Ravens 9. The Ravens RB immediately fumbles, giving me the chance to put this one away, starting from Baltimore's 15. A toss to the WR nets me a first and goal from the 4, and a quick toss to the TE (again, over blitzing LBs) results in a TD. This time, I go for the traditional extra point, which Karras knocks through with ease. The Ravens QB throws a pick, giving me the ball with 0:05 left. I send out Karras to kick a routine 32 yarder to cap off the victory. Final score: Bengals 27, Ravens 9.
Post-Game Press Interview: "Defensive Back Shamar Barkley had a great game today. The fans clearly want him to do well." I chose "Praise Fans", because more fans means more CC means I could buy a free agent or hire an offensive coordinator to improve the no-stars' play.
In the next "episode", I'll handle week 2 vs the Texans, week 3 at the Packers, and week 4 at the Browns.