There is no quit in this team. They found against a 16-point third quarter deficit against the Green Bay Packers and won with unlikely fumble return for a touchdown. They held off New England's fourth quarter assault to seal the win on an Adam Jones interception, and that was after Carlos Dunlap's impact as a pass rusher.
What's unique is how similar the Cincinnati Bengals won their previous two games. Kevin Huber pins the opposition near their own goalline. The defense forces the opposition to punt. The offense does just enough to get Mike Nugent into position to kick the game-winning field goal.
When Dalton is good, he's good. There's nothing wrong with criticizing Andy Dalton when he struggles; we do it with everyone on the 53-man roster. But when Dalton plays well, the only course of action is to credit Dalton when it's due.
After winning the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award last week for his performance against the Buffalo Bills, Dalton should be in contention to win it again after completing over 70 percent of his passes against the Lions, throwing for 372 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 135.9. In the past two weeks, Dalton has completed 50 of 74 passes for 709 yards passing, six touchdowns, one pick and a combined passer rating of 119.7.
Against the Lions, Dalton hit five passes of 20 yards or more, including an 82-yard touchdown to A.J. Green and 32-yard touchdown to Tyler Eifert. Dalton completed five of eight passes on third down for 53 yards passing, converting four into first downs, including two receptions by Marvin Jones for 18 and 11 yards.
Ironically, what's really impressing me is that Dalton is learning to throw the ball away to avoid the sack. With 7:29 remaining in the second quarter, Dalton is under pressure and instead of holding onto the ball from the Lions 29-yard line, he throws the ball away to give Mike Nugent a shot at a 47-yard field goal. Obviously you'd love the conversion (in both cases), but taking a sack would have removed the field goal opportunity all-together. You can't win them all, but of those you don't win, you can avoid losing.
Defense takes a stand when they have to. The Detroit Lions accumulated 434 yards on offense, converted 13 of their 19 third down opportunities and never turned the ball over. By every definition, when your offense is that productive, you should win those games. Save for Calvin Johnson's 50-yard touchdown, when the Lions were threatening, the Bengals defense rose. Even Johnson's second touchdown was an impression more towards Johnson than the Bengals defense; Dre Kirkpatrick had good coverage, but just didn't turn around when the ball was in flight.
Detroit has the ball with over ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, gamed tied at 24. The Lions start at their own 28-yard line but fail to inch closer than Cincinnati's 46-yard line after several incomplete passes that forced Detroit to punt. The Lions get the ball back at their own six-yard line with 1:43 remaining in regulation. After three plays that moved Detroit 17 yards to the Lions 23-yard line, the Bengals forced consecutive incomplete passes, including during Reggie Nelson's third down blitz that forced Stafford to throw it away.
Cincinnati won't get awards for shutting down the opposition between the 20s right now, but when it mattered the most, Cincinnati's defense did just enough to keep the Bengals in the game.
Special teams is clutch this year. The return game isn't very good this year. Mike Nugent has already missed three field goal attempts after only missing four in 2012, and five in 2011. Kevin Huber isn't going to win many awards for longest kicks in the NFL. But when it matters the most, there's no special teams unit in the NFL that thrives under pressure like the Bengals.
For the third week in a row, a late Kevin Huber punt set up the eventual play that sealed Cincinnati's wins. Against the Patriots, Huber crushed a punt through a driving rain storm from his own goalline. It forced New England to go 65 yards with less than two minutes. They didn't. Last week against the Bills, Huber pinned Buffalo at their own seven-yard line with 10:17 remaining in overtime. Brandon Tate reutrned the ensuing punt to the Bills 33-yard line, already within Mike Nugent's wheelhouse. And then Huber shoved a punt out of bounds at Detroit's six-yard line with 1:43 remaining on Sunday. After a confidence building four-yard run and seven-yard pass for a first down, Matthew Stafford threw consecutive incomplete passes, which set up Cincinnati's eventual game-winning field goal. Then there's the fact that Nugent hit both game-winning field goals in the past two weeks, the most recent a 54-yarder against the Lions.
And Carlos Dunlap's blocked field goal in the second quarter led to another Bengals touchdown.
Calvin Johnson is a beast. We knew it going in, but this only further cemented it. Calvin Johnson is a freak. Athleticism, size, whatever, when he caught the 50-yard touchdown over Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, and Vontaze Burfict, my jaw hit the ground. Normally we'd be alright with a 140-character rant on twitter, but our golf clap clearly signifies appreciation for one receiver owning three Bengals defenders on a touchdown that tied the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter. You can pick apart how the defense failed on this play, but sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition.