When I woke up Sunday morning, I had an unexplained urge to change my Sunday morning routine. Instead of making coffee, taking a shower and cracking my knuckles anticipating the day's challenges, I left the house as soon as I hooked the sleepy crud out of my radish-shaded eyes. I stopped at a gas station and picked up a cappuccino. I love French Vanilla. It was fat free, meeting the requirement for my new healthy regiment that was burdened on me by something other than self preservation. But I decided to gamble. I was ready to take the bumps. My bruises always heal quickly. I picked up some Krispy Kreme donuts and it made -- almost -- everyone happy. I don't care for Krispy Kreme, but I did throw a chocolate glaze into the microwave for 15 seconds. I'm still rubbing my arm.
It was all in part to change my Sunday morning routine. I didn't think that way at the time, of course. It's occurring to me now, while the October cold forced a violent closure of our over-sized sliding glass window. Come to think of it, I've been involved in football for a long time. As coaches say, if you're going to foul someone, foul 'em big. I should have went all-out and bought a buffet-style order at McDonalds. But hindsight is a meaningless human act, and thus I moved on.
However, in my world, this doesn't equate to some acquisition of superstitious behavior, like Wade Boggs and his fried chicken, just because one action led to another. Admittedly, the day turned out completely different. I was allowed to watch several early football games. My ass imprint on the couch went un-fluffed for nearly seven hours. I ate a salad with French and bacon dressing. I had Sloppy Joe's in a bowl, with sour cream and shredded cheese. Crazy. Right? That's a damn fine meal. If I were any crazier, I would have went out and bought my Merit Fitness 725T Treadmill. Then there's the Bengals, who were obviously affected by my changed Sunday morning routine. I'm not superstitious; nor narcissistic for that matter.
Some called it a must-win. Others weren't so urgent. Here's the thinking. If the Bengals lose, they'll go into the bye week with a two-game losing streak, no momentum (at least positive momentum) and two tough division games against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers afterward. If the Bengals win, they'll go 5-2 heading into back-to-back series finales against the two powerhouses of the division after the bye week. Even if they lose both games, they'll still have a winning record and the Bengals hit the easiest stretch on their 2009 schedule to rebound. After losing to the Houston Texans last week, the question this week was: can the Bengals find their focus? We've been saying for weeks that we're still waiting for the perfect game. Perhaps saying the game least flawed would be more realistic. So, why not lower the expectation and just hope that the Bengals get their kind of unimpressive through three quarters to pull out the win in the fourth quarter mojo back?
And the irony of many complex questions in life, it takes time for a complete answer to materialize. The Bengals have always played that way. The original question: who are these guys? The follow-up question: can they sustain this? The current question: will they put together the complete game? They wait, wait, and wait until it's time for them to strike. They have yet to take a game into their own hands, not playing down, or up, to their competition. They have yet to play to their capabilities. We've felt that way all season. We know this offense can, and will, explode. But when? In classic Jack Bauer, "we're running out of time."
So how do you angle a story that accurately describes how the Bengals played against the Bears on Sunday?
Maybe the word is owning, or pwning. An example of that would be the Bengals 45-10 win over the Chicago Bears Sunday. In the first half, the Bengals offense accumulated 292 yards of total offense. Cedric Benson hit the 100-yard rushing marker before half time -- then he lost three yards bringing his total down to 98 yards. Chad Ochocinco, with five minutes left in the first half, caught eight passes for 103 yards receiving. Carson Palmer completed 15 of 17 passes for 183 yards passing and four touchdowns -- all to different receivers. Psst. You and I know the truth. Everything today changed after I bought a cappuccino as soon as I woke up this morning. I still don't believe in superstitions though.
Yet, it wasn't just the offense. The defense held the Bears to 71 yards of total offense before Chicago recorded a field goal on a nine-play, 70-yard drive to close the first half. Leon Hall picked off two passes. Chris Crocker tipped a few passes and intercepted the team's third interception. Morgan Trent is a hitter. Michael Johnson is everywhere, from defensive line to outside linebacker in coverage. Dhani Jones and Rey Maualuga were as amped as I've seen them all season. Tank Johnson was noticeable inside. Then there was Frostee Rucker, who sacked Jay Cutler and recorded another stuff on the quarterback that wasn't officially a sack.
No, I have a better way of describing Sunday's win.
The Cincinnati Bengals beat the holy shit out of the Chicago Bears. There. Simple. Descriptive. Easy to remember.
Remember this date? September 16, 2007.
On Sunday, Carson Palmer recorded touchdown passes. The last time he recorded that many touchdowns as a six-touchdown performance against the Cleveland Browns on September 16, 2007. That was also the last time the Bengals scored 40 points or more.
Stat of the Game: Bengals only committed three penalties for 20 yards lost. Both are season lows.
They called it Benson Bowl 2009. They should have called it "Benson will run through you because he's a pissed off maniac bowl". Cedric Benson played against his old team, the Chicago Bears. Did you know that? There's some animosity there; mostly, it seemed, from Benson. There's definitely motivation. How does Benson say hello to his old mates, who he claimed wasn't a revenge game? Does he take Lovie Smith out to dinner, or have orange juice during bible studies with Lance Briggs? No. Benson, not thinking revenge, followed his lanes, rolled over people, side-stepped potential tacklers like Lance Briggs who tried a kung-fu leg sweep while he was laying on the ground. In all, Benson records a career-high 189 yards rushing (5.1 yards-per-rush) and a touchdown -- the third straight game with a rushing touchdown. Benson's 37 rush attempts fell one short of a career high 38 against the Cleveland Browns on December 21, 2008.
|Breakdown of Benson's rushing per quarter|
|1st Quarter||2nd Quarter||3rd Quarter||4th Quarter|
Benson was nasty good during the team's first two possessions, which set the tempo for the Bengals offense. On the team's first possession, Benson picked up 32 yards on four carries. Bengals scored a touchdown. On the team's second possession, Benson picked up 38 yards on four carries. Bengals scored a touchdown. If such a thing existed, you could seriously consider giving Benson the first quarter game ball.
And thus, a controversial, yet meaningless award. I believe that giving the game ball to Cedric Benson is a good choice. Not only for the emotional factor of playing against his old team, Benson had a career game. He's just not my choice for player of the game.
I'm giving my player of the game award to the guy that's responsible for five touchdowns. Five. Touchdowns. In the first half, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer completed 15 of 17 passes for 183 yards passing. For the first time in the historic Chicago Bears franchise, someone threw four touchdowns in the first half. Palmer actually only made throws in the first three quarters, taking a break in the closing minutes of the game. In each of the quarters he played in, Palmer recorded a passer rating of 130 or better -- and it was 150 or better through the first two quarters.
Furthermore, Carson Palmer's passing on third downs was flawless. He completed all seven passes (which went for first downs), threw for 81 yards passing and recorded three touchdowns. Making it happen on third down is critical. And Palmer was perfect. Well, next to it. His quarterback rating on third down was 154.5. And of those third downs, only one was shorter than five yards to go. So the Bears defense knew that the Bengals were passing. And yet, Palmer and the passing offense came through.
|1st Quarter||2nd Quarter||3rd Quarter||4th Quarter|
Like I said, Benson is a worthy choice. But my choice for Player of the Game goes to Carson Palmer.
Marvin Lewis versus the NFC North: 6-0
|Bengals Drives||Bears Drives|
|5||4||6||Field Goal||9||70||Field Goal|
|Bears had two drives that went one-play while the first half and the game concluded.|
Stat of the Game II : Bengals converted 67% (8/12) of their third downs.
If you say trends are meaningless, the Bengals offense says you're meaningless. On the first play of the game, Carson Palmer fakes the handoff to Benson, with Dennis Roland lined up at tight end, and hits Chad Ochocinco for a 19-yard gain. On the following play, the Bengals lined up with two fullbacks in the backfield, Jeremi Johnson and Daniel Coats, and handed off to Benson for a seven-yard gain. After an incomplete pass, Carson Palmer threw over the middle to Chris Henry for another 17 yards. Palmer hands off to Benson, who turns the right edge, runs down the right sidelines for a big 23-yard gain. The Bengals tried Wild Cat with Carson Palmer lined up wide left, and Cedric Benson taking the snap and gaining only three yards over the middle. Note: They never run the Wild Cat again. On third-and-eight at the Chicago Bears nine-yard line, Carson Palmer looks left, rolls out right and throws a floater to Chris Henry at the back of the endzone. Touchdown. And thus the slaughtering begins.
Stat of the Game III: Bengals had seven Red Zone trips. They scored six touchdowns.
Even special teams was special. A sad look at corny headlines: Johnny Knox came into Sunday's game averaging 33.7 yards per kickoff return. Against the Bengals, Knox averaged 21 yards per return with a long of 28 yards, which was five yards below his average. In fact, Knox didn't equal his kick return average once, returning kickoffs for 25, 23, 20, 12, 25, 18 and 28 yards. Also of note, Clark Harris didn't fumble a long-snap and Shayne Graham didn't miss a kick. How special is that?
Stat of the Game IV: The Bengals came into Sunday's game having given up a league-worst 25 passing plays of 20-yards or more. Against the Bears, the Bengals gave up one -- a 26-yard pass to Earl Bennett.
When Frostee Rucker warms up, he just chills your ass. With 1:02 left in the first quarter, the Bears lined up first-and-ten at their own 29-yard line. Jay Cutler dropped back, looked over the middle, rolled out right when Frostee Rucker sacked the quarterback for a ten-yard loss. After a quick six-yard pass to Matt Forte, Cutler fumbled the snap and Rucker tackled the quarterback soon after recovery for a limited gain. Technically, it's not a sack. Technically, Frostee Rucker will find you and technically he will tackle you.
Because the snap was fumbled and because Cutler never made an attempt to appear like anything more than a quarterback freaking out, finding yardage with his legs, Rucker was credited with a stuff rather than a quarterback sack. For the entire game, Rucker nailed Cutler at least three times, which doesn't include the quarterback sack.
Models and cheerleaders should go after offensive linemen. Because they're awesome. I've never hidden that watching the trenches is my favorite part of any NFL game. That's where football is, and forever will be, at its purest form. And if you don't think that the Bengals offensive line didn't play their best game of the season, you're nuts. That's right. You're nuts.
The Bears defense came into Sunday's game sporting the league's sixth best rush defense, allowing only 88.4 yards rushing per game. After rushing for only 46 yards against the Houston Texans, the Bengals offense recorded 215 yards rushing and a 4.8 yard-per-rush average. When you have deeper routes developing that the Bengals called on Sunday, you need quality, and sometimes extended, pass protection for those routes to develop. Not only did Palmer have all day to throw the football, he was only knocked down twice.
The Bengals offensive line should get as much, if not a majority, of the credit for the Bengals 448 yards of total offense.
Stat of the Game V: Bengals recorded 30 first downs (11 rushing, 16 passing and three via penalty).
Who do they think they are? When the Bengals win a big game, I get irritated at the ballsy nerve ESPN and NBC have by talking about other teams. When the Bengals lose a game, any game, I take a nap.
Remember when Chad Ochocinco used to be called Chad Johnson? It was reported heading into last year's regular season that Chad Johnson legally changed his last name to Ochocinco. All he got was a career low, both on the field and all of the bravado off the field. In 2008, Chad never recorded a 100-yard game and only four touchdowns. In fact, he went 18 straight games without a 100-yard game before recording 103 yards receiving against the Houston Texans last week.
Chad Ochocinco caught ten passes for 118 yards receiving and two touchdowns the following week against the Chicago Bears. In fact, he caught ten of the 11 passes thrown his way. The last time he caught ten passes or more was November 25, 2007 during a 35-6 win over the Tennessee Titans. Even more significant, Chad recorded his first back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since early 2007 when he recorded 209 yards against the Browns and 138 against the Seahawks.
So maybe the curse of changing last name to wacky catch-phrase of Spanish numerical system is finally dissolving.
And thus, Chad Ochocinco gets an award for himself. Outside the high school and college sob stories about making it into the NFL, rarely do sports figures prove everyone wrong. I'm talking about having already made it, doing things to make us conclude that he's worth too much trouble, only to have our minds changed about them later. Chris Henry would apply. Of all the things that we said in the offseason and last year about Chad Ochocinco, there's no one more deserving of a fanbase-wide apology than Chad. Maybe not an apology. After all, he forced us to conclude those things. Maybe forgiveness. In five of the seven games this season, Chad has recorded 89 yards receiving or more. His five touchdowns receiving leads the teams, as does his receptions (39) and yards receiving (573). In fact, Chad leads nearly every statistical receiving category. Except for drops. We know who that is.
So maybe in two weeks, when the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens, I'll go out for another cappuccino in the morning. French Vanilla. Fat Free. I like it. It's not like I'm getting all superstitious or something. Maybe I should get the donuts too.