When the Cincinnati Bengals entered their Week Ten game against the New York Giants on Sunday, they were doing it without arguably their best safety in Reggie Nelson. Eli Manning. Those receivers. And no Reggie Nelson. Not to mention the down-trodden sense with a weakening grip on any postseason reality. Maybe even lost, depending on whom you argue with.
Yet when the game was over Sunday afternoon, did you invite an invading thought about Nelson's absence during your celebration following Cincinnati's 18-point win? No. When Manning completed a pass, did you beg the football gods to release their vice grip around Nelson's hamstring? Probably not so dramatically.
That's because other players answered the call on Sunday. A unified unit of destruction.
Whether it was Dre Kirkpatrick filling in for an injured Adam Jones, who primarily played outside nickel while Leon Hall collapsed Victor Cruz's production, or Nate Clements roaming the secondary with fellow veteran safety Chris Crocker, it was a stingy defense dictating New York's offensive production.
Benefited likely from a massive pass rush ignited from Cincinnati's front four, posted four quarterback sacks, with an intense pass rush that's been relatively absent for much of this season. Along with the quarterback sacks, Cincinnati also generated eight hits on the quarterback and 12 hurries; five from Geno Atkins (who also generated four hits) and four from Michael Johnson. We're fairly certain that Manning woke in a cold sweet with a strange noise outside.
"Geno. Geno, is that you. This isn't funny, man."
When it was all said and done, the Cincinnati Bengals defense turned in their best performance of the season, giving rise to a Bengals offense that matched. Four touchdowns by Andy Dalton, ranging from your standard ho-hum A.J. Green bomb to pressure-packed third down touchdown throws. Did Mohamed Sanu finally put his name in the hat for more and more playing time? Jermaine Gresham didn't post the overall numbers like he did against Denver, but touchdowns trump gaudy numbers every time.
With the season literally one microscopic string from snapping their faded postseason opportunity, the Bengals punished an exhausted and injured Giants team, blowing them out in the process while recovering just enough to say, "alright, we're back on track." The playoffs start now.
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