Well, Christmas came a little early to The Queen City, didn't it? Most talking heads around the nation figured that the Cincinnati Bengals didn't have a shot against the Denver Broncos. It wasn't that far of a stretch, given the team's lack of success against Peyton Manning and their woes in the spotlight.
Bengals faithfuls had their faith, though. Admit it: you had that tingly feeling before kickoff telling you that that Monday night would be different. It took a slew of big plays in all three phases of the team, but they now have their 2014 signature win (so far.)
Let's look at the best, the worst and the somewhere in betweens from the primetime win against Denver.
Getting A Piece Of The Monkey Off Their Back: The Bengals were just 2-9 in primetime games in the Andy Dalton era, which helped to fuel the widely-held perception that the Bengals couldn't come up in the clutch. Beating an NFL legend and forcing four interceptions from him is a huge statement, and if confidence was the issue in these moments for the team, it didn't seem that way on Monday. Perhaps by grabbing the victory in such a dramatic fashion it gave some of the locker room some new confidence going into future games. With at least two more huge games in as many weeks, they'll need to capture this lightning in a bottle.
Fighting Back: How many times have we seen this Bengals team crawl up in the fetal position when the you-know-what hit the fan? It might as well have been printed on the team's crest of the 1990s, and even though Marvin Lewis has changed some of that ho-hum culture, there have been games where bad things happen and the team allows it to snowball on them. Not on Monday. Andy Dalton throws an early pick-six for the first score of the game? No big deal, let's pop an 85-yard run. A 21-point third quarter and relinquishing of the lead? Let's grab three interceptions in the fourth quarter. Truly impressive fortitude in front of a national audience.
The Kick Returns: In short, Adam Jones and Brandon Tate were spectacular on Monday night. The blocking was solid, but their bobbing and weaving through traffic was incredibly fun to watch. Tate had a 49-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, while Jones had kickoff returns of 39 and 80 yards in the third quarter to go along with 21-yard punt return in the first. They were directly responsible for 13 points and would have likely had more if not for a Jeremy Hill fumble.
Jeremy Hill's 85-Yard Sprint: Spirits were low after the Dalton pick-six, but the rookie responded quickly. Looking like he was caught in the backfield, Hill showed his power by kicking off the linebacker. He then showed his elusiveness to match the power the rest of the way. It was a beauty and it injected life back into the Bengals.
Giovani Bernard Solid As A "Backup": A couple of weeks ago, the team made the decision to use Hill as their primary back with Bernard as the guy to take advantage of a tired defense. Bernard has strung two of his better games in as many weeks, using his receiving and running skills. He had 36 yards rushing at over four yards a clip, while also getting 45 yards receiving that included a 22-yard score. Getting 81 total yards and a score from your "backup" back on 13 total touches? Not bad.
Jermaine Gresham Steps Up: Yes, big No. 84 had a familiar moment with a fumble in the second half, but he also stepped up when A.J. Green was hurt and Mohamed Sanu was ineffective. He led the team in receptions with nine and in yards with 62 through the air to go with his touchdown reception.
The Linebackers: When two of your starters are out injured in a three position group, that usually spells doom for a defense. However, all of the linebackers played pretty well, for the most part, as C.J. Anderson was kept in check (83 yards) and no tight ends scorched them. Marquis Flowers only had one tackle in the game, but filled in adequately, while Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey combined for 21 tackles. We could also throw in Taylor Mays to this group with his one quarterback sack. It was also great to see them crowd the line often and seemingly confuse Peyton Manning, which is a Hall of Fame task in itself.
The Defensive Backs: Just a whale of a night for this group. Corners Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick combined for three interceptions, one for a pick-six, while Reggie Nelson secured another. Terence Newman had a rough night, but the coaching staff wisely recognized that a change needed to be made and Kirkpatrick came up gangbusters.
Mike Nugent: The Bengals kicker has been automatic since the miss against Carolina and was huge on Monday. He accounted for three field goals, one a 49-yarder before half, and another four extra points (13 total). A very nice game from Nugent on a night where the Bengals needed every point that they could get.
Jeremy Hill's Fumble: It's been a pattern with the guy of late, even when he's been extremely productive. Hill has been putting the ball on the ground at an alarming rate, though losing only two. This absolutely needs to get shored up as the Bengals gear up for quality opponents ahead.
The Pick-Six To Start The Game: The groans from Paul Brown Stadium were almost audible through the TV. After all of the talk of "Dalton in prime time", No. 14's second throw of the night was a disaster. It also resulted in Green getting dinged up, which didn't help the team in any fashion the rest of the night.
Dane Sanzenbacher: I like the guy and had high hopes from him, but after Green went down, some form of a security blanket was needed for Dalton and "Sanz" had one catch for 11 yards (even though it was a first down). He also ran the ball once for minus-one-yard.
The Injuries To The Receiving And Tight End Corps: If there's one solid defense for the Dalton supporters, it's the number of weapons in the passing game that he has lost this season. Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones have both basically been lost for the year, while Green and James Wright were non-existent because of injuries on Monday. The hope is that a couple of these guys, namely Eifert and Wright, return for the postseason, but we'll see.
The Weather: Since it worked to the Bengals' favor on Monday, I guess it should be in "the good". But, man, that looked like a torrential downpour.
Terence Newman: He has been getting by this year on being a savvy veteran, but he was absolutely abused by Emmanuel Sanders in the third quarter. It's very possible that if the change to Kirkpatrick wasn't made that the Bengals could have lost this game.
The Third Quarter: Though the Bengals hung in there with a few big plays of their own, Manning absolutely torched them. Denver scored 21 points in the quarter, starting with a huge kick return. One felt the inevitable implosion looming, but the Bengals rallied back late.