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Bengals Versus Ravens: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

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We take a look at some of the best and worst of the weekend from the Cincinnati Bengals in their 27-24 squeaker win against the Baltimore Ravens.

John Grieshop

Have you recovered yet? Is your breathing back at a normal level know that a day has gone by? If you missed the fourth quarter of the Bengals/Ravens 2014 re-match, it wouldn't do the game justice to re-hash it here. Go check your DVR or some YouTube highlights. Go ahead, I'll wait.

After going a month without winning a football game, getting one that completed a sweep of the division rival was extra sweet. To their credit, the Ravens were coming in red hot and playing better football than some thought they would. But, for all of the criticism that he has taken over the years as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach, Marvin Lewis once again found a way to beat his former employer.

The game was truly Bengals-esque in fashion. They seemed to put more effort into figuring out a way to lose a game that they had in hand, than to actually step on the gas pedal and run away with it. The end result, however, was atypical of this team's culture, as they climbed out of their shell and found a way to win a game that might have meant the season for Cincinnati. Dramatic? Yes, but not that far-fetched.

THE GOOD:

Welcome Back, Geno Atkins: It wasn't too long ago that Atkins was being hailed as the best defensive tackle in the game and received all sorts of accolades. Then the unfortunate knee injury got him on Halloween night of 2013. It's been a long road back to recovery and Atkins deserves kudos for getting himself ready to start Week 1 and play in every game thus far.

Unfortunately, Atkins hadn't done much at all in the first six games of the season--just seven total tackles, zero sacks and a few pressures to his name. One can only hope that No. 97's play on Sunday was a foreshadowing of things to come for the second half of the season. Atkins had his best game of 2014 with four total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He also had pressures on Joe Flacco and was a pretty consistent force in the game.

Mike Nugent: Raise your hand if you get that uneasy feeling every time Nugent lines up for a kick this season. Unfortunately for him, Nugent has had some misses this season that has given him quite a bad rap. However, "Nuge" was big against the Ravens, which was one of our five keys to victory, and had nine total points. His two second-half field goals were critical because it would have made a Bengals comeback much tougher had he missed either of them. It was a nice redemption day for No. 2

Other Special Teams: Nugent aside, the entire special teams unit played well on Sunday. Over the years, the Ravens have been notorious for getting a random special teams touchdown in games that once looked completely over. Jacoby Jones has been a recent spark plug as a returner in Baltimore, and a game plan of any team facing the Ravens should be to contain him.

If this was an emphasis of Cincinnati's this week, they were coached up well. Jones rarely got past the 20-yard line and his long return on the day was 29 yards. He had five kickoff returns and a 24 yard average, while Michael Campanaro had two returns for just eight yards. Kudos goes to the unit, but we also need to give a nod to Kevin Huber who had a nice day punting the ball in his three tries (46.3 average, one inside the 20).

"Backup" Wide Receivers Looked Great: Most don't consider Mohamed Sanu a "starter" on this team, per se, but he is definitely showing that he is with an increase of opportunities. Injuries have thrust him into the No. 1 role and he has shown up almost every week. Early in the game, Sanu made a circus catch that he took for 48 yards, in which the drive ended with a touchdown. It was a ball that looked like it would have been intercepted, but Sanu's grab saved it. He finished with five catches for 125 yards, a 25-yards-per-catch average and another 27 yards as a runner--not bad for a "slot guy" with minimal straight-line speed, eh?

We would be remiss if we didn't mention Brandon Tate and Greg Little, though. Sanu was the star in the passing game with the big plays, but Little made multiple short pass plays into longer gains. He was particularly effective late in the game and finished with three catches for 42 yards to go with Tate's two for 30. It truly was a nice group effort at the position.

Andy Dalton Not Accepting A Loss: It was a bad fourth quarter for Dalton overall (more on that later), but No. 14 showed why Bengals coaches and fans gravitate toward him--the ability to come out with a win, even if it was ugly. He was mostly accurate on the day, missing just seven passes (21 of 28) and the lone interception wasn't really his fault, given that it was more of a strip of the ball after a catch than anything.

Dalton was cold-blooded in the fourth quarter to lead the game-winning drive, going 3-5 for 72 yards and two first downs. He capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal, his second of the day and first game with multiple rushing touchdowns. It was a play that Dalton called into apparently, showing grit and the ability to read a defense.

The Bengals' Pass Defense: Baltimore had been putting up points at will the previous couple of weeks, but the Bengals mostly held the big plays from Flacco's arm at bey. The Ravens' signal-caller was held to under 200 yards in the air and touchdown-less by Cincinnati's defense, along with throwing two interceptions. Kudos goes to the front four as well, who finally generated pressure on a consistent basis, as was previously mentioned with Atkins. In the two games this season against the Bengals, Flacco was sacked five times and has a one to three touchdown/interception ratio.

The Offensive Pass Interference Penalty Against Steve Smith: The officiating crew had to know that "the call" would be heavily-scrutinized, but it was the right one. That isn't just this writer's opinion, either, as both Mike Carey (officiating expert/correspondent for CBS) and Mike Pereira (officiating expert/correspondent for FOX) both tweeted that it was the right call to make. Though Ravens fans likely feel that they got jobbed on the penalty, it was the correct call in a very hectic moment.

THE BAD:

Bengals Rushing Defense: Yes, the Bengals kept the Ravens at 107 yards rushing, but it was also at a 4.1 yard-per-carry average. Lorenzo Taliafero looked like a superstar at times, including a 10-yard scamper for a touchdown in which he went untouched. This facet was particularly concerning for the Cincinnati defense, considering that three major Ravens offensive linemen were in and out of the lineup on Sunday (Marshall Yanda, Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele). Some believe that Brandon Thompson's return will aid in this area, but that is yet to be determined.

Vontaze Burfict: It's not that No. 55 played poorly, really, it's more that it was a very un-Burfict like type of performance. The Pro Bowl linebacker usually makes an impact play or two in every game he is in, but that wasn't the case on Sunday. He finished with seven total tackles--but six were assists. He didn't do much to quell the run defense issues and even seemed tentative when tackling because of the multiple concussion and neck issues this season. It was probably more of an aberration than anything, but it was a less-than-pedestrian day for him.

The Rushing Offense: For a team that said multiple times in the spring and summer months that they want to run the ball effectively, they aren't really getting it going. Luckily, the big runs have come at clutch points in games, but in the overall scope, it isn't pretty. The team averaged 3.3 yards per carry on Sunday, with Giovani Bernard accounting for a 2.8 average and Jeremy Hill at 2.5. Yes, the Ravens defense is always stout in this area, but the Bengals spent draft picks and free agency dollars in an attempt to improve this area of their team. Through seven games, they haven't done so.

THE UGLY:

"Bad Andy" Makes A Fourth Quarter Appearance: We mentioned the beautiful drive that Dalton engineered to win the game, but remember that feeling you had with about four minutes left? Dalton and the Bengals were marching with a six-point lead in the fourth quarter and Dalton attempted to give it all away in a fashion that would make Gus Frerotte proud. A fumble and an interception later, the Bengals were looking at a four-point deficit. All of this occrred after Dalton missed a gimme touchdown pass to Greg Little that would have put the game put of reach. Dalton played confident throughout most of the game, but in just a couple of minutes everyone was wondering what had just transpired.

Andre Smith: The former top-10 pick is rich with ability and normally plays at a near-Pro Bowl level, but he also has some brief stretches of really poor play. Consider No. 71 in one of those slumps right now. After an awful showing in Indianapolis, Smith had two holding penalties against Elvis Dumervil and allowed a sack. It's also worth noting that Smith was part of an offensive line that once again had trouble opening up lanes for the backs.