I'm not a fan of "moral victories" when talking about the Cincinnati Bengals and NFL football in general. While there are grey areas, it seems pretty clear: you either won the game or lost it. If you lose, you shouldn't be awarded with pats on the back or the like. So, when we at Cincy Jungle give out "Game Balls", or the "Unsung Hero of the Week" and MVP awards during a week following a Bengals loss, we find it to be a tough write-up. Hence why this article is a couple of days late. Nevertheless, we'll still try.
If we are going to celebrate a "moral victory", it was indeed a valiant comeback effort by the Bengals last Sunday, but they still lost at the hands of their sworn enemies--the Pittsburgh Steelers. In this game, there were only a few big plays by the Bengals with a lot of players stepping up as role players due to various injuries that occurred before and during the game.
Again, this award is given to a Bengal's player who stepped up and contributed heavily, though his contributions may have gotten lost in the shuffle due to other teammates' performances. Keep in mind that we try and nominate players who were not nominated in our weekly MVP or game ball features. Let's go over the nominees:
First, there's Jermaine Gresham. Though he only had four receptions for 23 yards, he did have one very big touchdown late in the game. The pretty fade pass off of play action from Andy Dalton was only outdone by Gresham's tightrope-like footwork on the sidelines. The catch brought the Bengals back to a tie with the Steelers and made the temporary swing of momentum on the side of the Bengals complete.
On the other side of the ball, one could look at defensive tackle, Geno Atkins. A member of their "Fisher-Price package", Atkins as been disruptive and active all season and last Sunday was no exception. He had four tackles and one big sack of Ben Roethlisberger. If you've been watching Bengals football since "Big Ben" joined the Steelers, you'll know that sacking him is no easy feat. Atkins already has four and a half sacks this year and has established himself as one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL.
A guy who's long overdue for recognition for contributing to the Bengals' success this season is kicker, Mike Nugent. He was a little bit of a question mark coming into 2011 as he was rehabbing a knee injury from last season, but has bounced back incredibly. He's having a Pro Bowl season making 17 of 18 field goal tries (the only miss being beyond 40 yards), as well as being 21 for 22 on extra point attempts. Though he only had five points to contribute last week, he's been clutch and almost automatic this year. He deserves to get his name thrown out there for his performance Sunday and the entire season.
We finally settled on Andrew Hawkins as this week's "Unsung Hero of the Week Award" winner. He stepped in for the injured A.J. Green and outplayed the other receivers the entire day. "Baby Hawk" had a pretty nice day, ending with five receptions for 56 yards--one of them being a diving 25-yard catch that kept the Bengals in the game at a critical early point. He also added a four-yard run on an end around where he picked up a first down. On top of all of that, Hawkins also plays the "gunner" position on special teams and helped out at that spot. A feel good story about a seemingly nice young man, we hope to see his role increase as the season progresses.
Who would get your vote for the "Unsung Hero of the Week Award"?