"I thought overall for the football team there were two things, our penalties in the first half really put us behind a little bit. We had two procedures, we had a holding, we had a hands-to-the-face, we had a face mask on the other side and that really made a big difference on the football team."
- Marvin Lewis, December 18 following Cincinnati’s win over the Rams.
Eleven: That’s the number of infractions the Cincinnati Bengals committed against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. If only stickers could be awarded for achievements, it would be hard to find a player on offense that didn’t earn himself a sticker for avoiding the proverbial error Sunday. At the rate Cincinnati’s sloppiness was during their 20-13 win over the Rams, even A.J. Green is awarded a shining purple star for tripping over his own feet (which was called a pass interference) because athletic freaks should never do something that accidentally causes the lasting effects of a shoulder injury that won’t be fully healed until after the season is over. Though we’re being harsh, admittedly and of all the players on Cincinnati’s roster that should be granted a reprieve, Green is really the only exception.
The truth is a win is far prettier than the world’s most beautiful loss. Roses may bloom during a loss in which angels strum harps and tenors sing ballads of heroes heroically sacrificing their lives for the survival of billions (or for the horrible young actress because she’s easy on the eyes like every female lead in Transformers). Alternatively those same roses wilt with such an ugly win. And that’s fine by us because roses within the spectacle of football applies to only a parade and a college football game; outside of that, someone gets their ass kicked.
And it was almost the Cincinnati Bengals.
Whereas the truth matters only within the simple belief of faith, the same principle of truth is reaffirmed by fact. The fact is that the Cincinnati Bengals beat the St. Louis Rams. The belief is that if the Bengals struggled this much against a 2-11 Rams team with a poor offensive showing against a defense that ranked close worst in the NFL (think 24 yards rushing on 14 carries against the league’s worst rushing defense in the first half), how will they do against a decent Arizona Cardinals squad or a Baltimore Ravens team fighting for their own seeding against the division rival Pittsburgh? But it’s also that same faith that’s converted the horrible prognostications only four months ago. Denver may have Tim Tebow, but the Cincinnati Bengals have 22 guys that believe, drawing within their own will to win.
True. They did just enough to pull out the win and that’s the crucial point here. Not that three personal fouls committed by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter didn’t offer a slight respite for an offense that grows more and more frustrating as this electrifying season inches towards a close.
I love that the Cincinnati Bengals achieved their first ever win against the Rams in the city of St. Louis. Furthermore I fully appreciate that any Bengals squad pre-Andy Dalton era clearly loses this game, if only because the Bengals were expected to win it.
But as the scoreboard watching intensifies, as does the increase usage of illegal internet streams to monitor Cincinnati’s biggest roadblocks into the playoffs, one thing is frightening about this team right now. They can’t play like this and expect to do much for the next two weeks, much less pressing their finest tuxedo for the big dance.
By tying a season-high 11 penalties against the Rams, the Bengals exclaimed two things; the lack of self-discipline and the frustration of self-destruction. It’s the third time that the Bengals have committed ten penalties or more for over 100 yards lost and it’s the first time Cedric Benson fumbled the football – and he did that three times on Sunday (thankfully none were lost).
And if not for the St. Louis Rams doing what 2-11 teams typically do, the Cincinnati Bengals could be bracing for a vengeful fanbase that justifiably reissued their own expectations from hoping for four wins to demanding a playoff berth.
Cincinnati’s first possession of the game resulted in a clean eight-play drive without a single offensive penalty; though the Rams’ Eugene Sims was flagged for a personal foul, helping the Bengals convert a third and seven into a first down, eventually leading to a field goal to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead.
Backup guard Mike McGlynn, replacing the injured Bobbie Williams, nearly suffocated Cincinnati’s second possession with an offensive hold if not for an A.J. Green’s 30-yard bubble screen that converted the first down. And just as the Bengals reach the red zone for the second time in as many possessions, McGlynn is fouled for an illegal hands to the face, pushing the Bengals back ten yards, forcing Andy Dalton into a situation in which he felt the pressure on his own shoulders, unleashing a pass for an attempted 57-point touchdown on second and 21, where Josh Gordy intercepts the pass and returns it 30 yards.
Neither team actually acquired a first down for the first nine minutes and 11 seconds in the second quarter, which we’re sure involves a punchline somewhere. And that was only because Adam Jones was flagged for a face mask miles away from Nate Clements exceptional tackle, dropping Brandon Lloyd three yards deep in the backfield on a third and one pitch to the left. Josh Brown eventually converted a 26-yard field goal when he should have been forced into another long situation, already having missed a 45-yard field goal earlier in the game.
Following Brandon Tate’s 33-yard kickoff return to Cincinnati’s 26-yard line with over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cedric Benson’s four-yard run up the middle was quickly negated on a Chris Long quarterback sack that lost six yards. But as the accumulating penalties have hurt the Cincinnati Bengals, they’ve accepted gracious Christmas gifts like the glee of a child or a Rod Hood pass interference on third and 12.
Of course the Bengals fail to truly appreciate the gifts bestowed upon them, failing to convert a third and fourth down attempt, only needing one yard from the Rams’ 42-yard line on power runs off the left edge. St. Louis took a 6-3 lead after Cincinnati’s turnover on downs.
As if the three fumbles by Cedric Benson weren’t enough on Sunday, the penalties continued to build. With seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals were flagged for two false starts, the second in which turned a third and 12 into a third and 17; Cincinnati didn’t even bother, handing off to Cedric Peerman to give punter Kevin Huber room for another crushing 43-yard punt from the team’s former fifth-round draft pick.
In the end it was the St. Louis Rams who outscored Cincinnati in the crucial penalties department, with Harvey Dahl committing 20 yards worth of infractions on a single-play, adding an offensive hold with an enthusiastic retort to the officials while the microphone was switched on, not unlike Kanye West did to Taylor Swift.
From their own 20-yard line, the Bengals moved the football 20 yards with help from linebacker Chris Chamberlain, called for two personal fouls, the second at the tail end of a Cedric Benson 15-yard run that put the Bengals at the Rams two-yard line. Eventually the Bengals took a 20-6 lead.
Cincinnati’s seven-point win over one of the worst teams’ in football installs two separate emotions in which only those able to compartmentalize can filter. Cincinnati’s win on Sunday adds to the mounting evidence that this team isn’t like previous Bengals squads. Much like beating the Jaguars in Jacksonville, winning in Seattle or beating Buffalo, Cincinnati went to St. Louis and took care of business. They did what they must to win the football game, keeping their postseason situation close to a favorable resolution.
On the other hand if they play like they did Sunday, committing costly errors against less forgiving teams, their season will go from controlling their own destiny to shooting themselves in the foot within a month. And as we hinted earlier, it’s nice that they’ve achieved every preseason expectation. But those expectations are four months old. We have new ones now and no one expects more from this team than those guys in that lockerroom.