It was the type of game that solidified our pregame prognostications this week (one of the rare times that's every happened). Run the ball well, depend on the defense and protect Andy Dalton -- typical keys to any NFL game that usually leads to a high probability for victory. It was further compounded with Cincinnati hosting a struggling Indianapolis Colts team on Sunday, with a forecast of snow, sleet and freezing rain. Though the weather held off, the Bengals defense held Indianapolis in check in the first half until the offense showed their ability to dominate with a 28-point second half leading to Cincinnati's eventual 42-28 win (Indianapolis' fourth touchdown was mop up time... no one really cared). It's the third straight home game with the Bengals scoring 40 points or more.
And Andy Dalton. What a performance. After continuously shouldering blame for Cincinnati's offensive woes lately, the third-year quarterback bailed out an ailing defense, who had allowed two third quarter touchdowns on big plays enabled by missed tackles. Dalton completed 24 of 35 passes for 275 yards passing with four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and a passer rating of 120.5. Giovani Bernard touched the football 16 times (12 runs, four receptions) for 148 yards from scrimmage while falling one yard shy of hitting the century mark on the ground (99 yards rushing). Gruden. C'mon man. Anthony Collins, brilliant. Robert Mathis
Cincinnati's win on Sunday kept their undefeated home record alive, going 6-0 with two games to play against the Vikings (week 16) and the Ravens (week 17). The Bengals will head to Pittsburgh next week for Sunday Night Football with a two-game lead after the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Minnesota Vikings on a last-second touchdown.
Let's dig into how this game was won.
BENGALS TAKE 7-0 LEAD
Despite the offensive struggles in warm and sunny San Diego during the first half, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton thrived during Cincinnati's opening possession of the game in chilly Cincinnati. With 8:11 remaining in the first quarter, Dalton led wide receiver Marvin Jones down the left sidelines where the second-year receiver extended his body to dive for the 29-yard touchdown reception, giving the Bengals a 7-0 lead with over eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. Dalton, who completed his first five passes to start the game, pushed Cincinnati down-field by completing six of seven passes on the possession for 83 yards.
JAY GRUDEN WAS ALRIGHT, BUT SOMETIMES...
The Bengals are leading by a touchdown and Giovani Bernard had just gained 29 yards rushing on two plays, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis converting a two-yard run into a first down. For some reason, the Bengals, now on the Colts 47-yard line with over ten minutes remaining in the half, called three straight passes -- a go-route to Tyler Eifert, a bubble screen that Bjoern Warner knocked down at the line and a scramble that ended the possession. After the success that Cincinnati had on the ground in the first half, why are you passing it three straight times now?
THE QUESTIONABLY SUCCESSFUL FOURTH DOWN CONVERSION
After Adam Vinatieri missed a 44-yard attempt with five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Bengals offense moved 60 yards to the one-yard line with 1:14 remaining in the second quarter. Cincinnati decides to go for it on fourth down.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis takes the handoff and as he approaches the line of scrimmage, nose tackle Josh Chapman nudges (just barely) one of Green-Ellis' feet, who slowly loses his balance and drops a knee while the football is inches short of the goalline. After a mandatory review on a turnover (on downs) and the play being too close to call, head official Jeff Triplette reversed the call and announced that he scored a touchdown, giving Cincinnati a 14-0 lead with 1:06 remaining in the second quarter.
Unicorns? Fairies? There's really no telling. RT @DonBanks: Can anyone explain what Tripplette saw to reverse that?— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 8, 2013
Jeff Triplette is so bullet-proof with the NFL that he’ll probably get the Super Bowl assignment out of this week’s screw-ups.— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) December 8, 2013
The overturn by Triplette in Cincinnati: disgraceful. Indefensible.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) December 8, 2013
OPENING THE SECOND HALF LIKE THE FIRST HALF
The Bengals used a collection of pass and runs to open the third quarter, sustaining a seven-play drive for 77 yards -- their fourth (of six possessions) that traveled more than 55 yards.
More impressively is that Dalton was finding his stride during the team's opening possession of the second half. On third and five from the Bengals 25-yard line, Dalton floated a pass over the middle where A.J. Green's crossing route forced a linebacker into coverage. Green picked up 22 yards to the 47-yard line. Two plays later, Dalton hit Jermaine Gresham on a tight end screen, picking up another 16 and on the next play, Dalton hit a wide open Mohamed Sanu on a slant against soft coverage for 15.
Not even false starts could temper Cincinnati's production. Andre Smith was called for a false start, setting up a second and 15 from the Colts 29-yard line with 11:42 remaining in the third. Giovani Bernard found a massive gap over the left side of the line for 20 yards, reaching the nine-yard line. After consecutive defensive penalties pushed Cincinnati to the Colts one-yard line, Green-Ellis shoved his body into the line of scrimmage for a touchdown, his second of the afternoon.
THE COLTS RE-ENTER THE GAME
With the Colts struggling to generating momentum in the first half, Indianapolis finally found evasive fortunes with around ten minutes remaining in the third quarter -- with a little help from the Bengals defense. Andrew Luck connected with Da'Rick Rogers on a short crossing pattern on a play that should have ended the possession with sure-handed tackling... which Cincinnati usually has. Instead, Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones missed their tackles and Rogers sprinted 69 yards for the touchdown to reduce Cincinnati's lead, 21-7.
JAY GRUDEN WAS ALRIGHT, BUT SOMETIMES... PART II
Kyle Cook was called for an illegal hands to the face with 8:34 remaining in the third, negating Andy Dalton's eight-yard scramble that picked up a first down and pushed Cincinnati back to their own 12 with 14 needed to convert the third down. Instead of drawing up a wicked pass that sustains the drive, Dalton hands off to Giovani Bernard on a draw and picks up six yards.
One could argue that the play was lacking trust in Cincinnati's passing offense or reiterated total trust in the Bengals defense -- considering that they JUST gave up a 69-yard touchdown on two missed tackles.
THE MOMENTUM OFFICIALLY OPENED FOR THE COLTS
A weak 30-yard punt later put Indianapolis at the Bengals 48-yard line. Facing decent coverage and no one home to watch Luck, who is evasive on the ground, sprints 29 yards to the Bengals 19-yard line. An incomplete pass later, Luck hit LaVon Brazill on a short crossing pattern. Any team employing sure-tackling defensive players should have quickly dropped him short of the first down marker. Oddly enough, the Bengals have no such players that warrant that much confidence on this play. Yet, much like Rogers' 69-yard touchdown, the Bengals defense embarrassed themselves by missing (at least) six tackles during his 19-yard touchdown run.
OFFENSE STICKS UP FOR THE DEFENSE
Having gone from enjoying a 21-point lead to only a touchdown within a few minutes of the third quarter, the Bengals special teams and offense decided to stand up for their troubled defense. After Brandon Tate took a 44-yard kickoff return to the Bengals 40-yard line, the Bengals picked up a quick first down on a pass interference.
Eventually the Bengals have third and two from the Colts 34-yard line with 4:08 remaining in the third, Giovani Bernard escapes from the backfield and takes a 45-degree angle towards the left sidelines. Dalton floated the football to an open Bernard, who gained 21 yards to the 13-yard line. A LaRon Landry unnecessary roughness tacked on seven yards. Two plays later from the Colts one-yard line, Dalton faked the handoff to Green-Ellis and nailed a wide open Jermaine Gresham near the front left pylon for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining in the third, reclaiming some of Cincinnati's lost momentum.
OFFENSE STICKS UP FOR THE DEFENSE, PART II
Another quality Brandon Tate return (19 yards), this time on a punt puts Cincinnati at Bengals 41-yard line. Despite losing three yards on Marvin Jones' end around, the Colts were called for taunting, putting the Bengals at the Colts 44-yard line. Later during the possession, Andy Dalton found Marvin Jones down the left sidelines with the second-year receiver turning around and making an amazing grab at the Colts 11-yard line. Two plays later, Dalton lowered a beautiful pass over A.J. Green's shoulder for the nine-yard touchdown reception, reclaiming a 21-point lead, 35-14.
NOT QUITE OVER... BUT IT REALLY WAS
Despite the momentum recovery, the Indianapolis Colts refused to collapse. With 9:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, Luck airs a beautiful deep pass down the right sidelines, targeting LaVon Brazill. Terence Newman allowed the inside release, believing that safety Chris Crocker would help over the top. He didn't, leaving Brazill open for 29-yard touchdown reception and reducing Cincinnati's lead 35-21.
This time Cincinnati's offense didn't respond very well, going three and out. Kevin Huber smoked a 70-yarder into the endzone, putting Indianapolis at their own 20 with 8:07 remaining in the game. The defense, recovering from three second half touchdowns allowed, forced a three and out and Brandon Tate returned the punt 43 yards back to the Colts 29-yard line with 7:18 remaining.
Cincinnati took a 42-21 lead with 4:03 remaining when Andy Dalton faked the handoff on third and two from the Colts eight-yard line on a bootleg to the right. Noticing that no one was paying attention to him, Dalton took off and easily scored an eight-yard touchdown to give Cincinnati the 21-point lead. Indianapolis could add another touchdown late in the game, but it was all but sealed by then.