The cliche train is running at maximum velocity after the Bengals' ugly 14-13 road win against the Buccaneers. "A win is a win", "It's ugly, but we'll take it", and a plethora of other common phrases have continuously been thrown out when describing the latest cog that was inserted in Cincinnati's 8-3-1 machine. They may be tired statements, but they also ring true.
With the Bengals having a few "ugly wins" already under their belt this season, this latest one down south may usurp them all for the ugliest of the season. In addition to squeaking out a win against Tampa Bay, Cincinnati received a ton of help, as all three divisional opponents lost, giving them some space in what has been a very tight race for the crown.
Bad Days From Former Bengals: Offensive tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson were high-priced free agents who signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. We never wish bad things on people, especially quality people and players like Collins and Johnson, but it was a relief to see them have minimal positive impact against the Bengals. Collins had two false starts early on and Johnson collected just two tackles.
Andy Dalton Gutting Through The Flu: See what I did there? As I heard the news of Dalton's ailment, I began to think about just how miserable it must have been to play a sport requiring a high amount of energy and athleticism when dealing with the stomach flu. After a brutal start to the game, Dalton seemed to feel better in the second half and played higher quality football in that stretch.
The Defense: The unit has slowly been getting contributors back from injury and it appears that Paul Guenther has altered his defensive scheme to not allow the big pass play. "The Tampa Twin Towers" (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson) combined for just 73 yards receiving, while allowing just 75 net yards on the ground. Both Brandon Thompson and Geno Atkins were making plays from their defensive tackle spots, which was a sight for sore eyes. Major kudos to this group for keeping the team in the game after three egregious first half interceptions from their quarterback. Side note: the Bengals defense has allowed the fewest number of passing touchdowns this season.
Carlos Dunlap: We wanted to give extra recognition to big No. 96 for his play on Sunday. Dunlap was the team's leading tackler with seven total, had a half sack with Atkins and had a batted ball. If that wasn't enough, Dunlap was also a major part of the team's attempt to show that Tampa had 12 men on the field when driving for the win. While his longtime Bengals defensive end counterpart (Johnson) was with the opposition, credit should be given to Dunlap who hasn't missed a beat despite having sub-par play around him up front for most of the season.
The Red Flag Miracle: The referees missed it. However, Marvin Lewis, his coaching staff and some of his players didn't. When all hope seemed lost, the Bengals' head coach wisely and calmly tossed his challenge flag on the field. As they were most of the day, the officiating crew was befuddled as to why Lewis would do that, but it forced to them to look it over and re-learn to count to 12. The call was correctly reversed, negating a completion and moving the Buccaneers back even further, essentially sealing a win for the Bengals.
Winning Three Straight On The Road: The Cincinnati Bengals had never won three consecutive road games in the franchise's past eight tries, but got off of the schneid on Sunday. It was a much-needed win because of the lesser opponent and the losses suffered by the rest of the AFC North.
The Wide Receivers: Some of the issues with the wideouts was because of errant quarterback play, but these guys didn't do Dalton many favors--especially on a critical late drive. A.J. Green had trouble getting open at times and had a hands-to-the-face call that negated a third down conversion, though it was a poor call (more on that later). Mohamed Sanu had two catches for just 19 yards and one horrible drop on what would have been a huge third down conversion after Green's penalty. James Wright did have a nice day, albeit with limited opportunities, but with nobody cracking the 60-yard mark, it was an unimpressive showing against a low-ranked passing defense.
Reggie Nelson's Missed Tackle: Again, we normally don't like to single out a player and/or one player for a team-oriented sport, but sometimes a moment so bad rears its head, forcing it to be recognized. On the Buccaneers' final drive to win it, Josh McCown flung a screen pass to Bobby Rainey on second and 10 from the Tampa 35-yard line. Though most Bengals defenders were being blocked, safety Reggie Nelson sprung free and had a clear shot at Rainey to minimize the play and set up a third and long. He whiffed and Rainey sprinted 19 yards, nearly spoiling the game for the Bengals.
The Onside Kick: Look, I get the rationale behind Josh Kirkendall's support of the botched opportunity. My issue lies in the timing of the call, along with, well, not executing the play. Mike Nugent's kick wasn't the best for recovery and it's one of those plays where you look foolish when it goes awry. Then again, if it had worked it would be the talk of the water cooler this morning, as well as be listed in "the good" here.
Andy Dalton's First Half: First it was the poor weather against Cleveland (that Brian Hoyer mysteriously seemed to have avoided) and then it's the flu causing Dalton's poor play. Look, I get it: you feel like crap, you're likely going to play like it. However, the three interceptions that Dalton had in the first half were inexcusable, particularly the one thrown to the end zone into double coverage. The first pick led to three Buccaneers points, while the other two basically took anywhere from 6-14 points off the board for his own team. Yes, he rallied and played better later on, but these type of performances can't happen in late-season and/or postseason play. I'm sure that I'll be labeled a "hater" from the irrational supporters (which I'm not) for pointing this out, but we're staring at a guy who has just 13 passing touchdowns on the year (1.1 per game) and just as many interceptions. Take a minute and think about giving the ball freely to Ben Roethlisberger and/or Peyton Manning three times in a game and how that would go for Cincinnati this December. You can get back to me. Think I'm alone?
Bengal coming off the field: "That team is sorry as ****. And, we keep giving them the damn ball."— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) November 30, 2014
The Officiating Crew: It's one of those things that we always say that we hate bringing up, but it needs to be said. The aforementioned penalty on Green was awful and other similar examples occurred for both teams. The inability to see that the Buccaneers had too many players on the field has to be a black eye for that group and NFL officials in general. Is it me, or has this year had particularly poor officiating?
Punt Return Blocking: Adam Jones got decapitated twice because of a combination of poor down field blocking and Jones' own stubbornness in not calling for a fair catch. It also happened to Brandon Tate because of poor blocking, as he netted minus-one yard on his only returnable kick. It's something that has been a strong point for a good chunk of the season, so maybe it was just a hiccup and/or the Bucs really emphasized on it this week, but it needs a vast improvement from Sunday.
Double-Digit Penalties: You can't win many games in the NFL with 10 penalties called against you, unless you're facing the two-win Buccaneers. As we mentioned, some of the calls were questionable at best, but others were just mental mistakes. One particularly hurtful call was a face mask against Geno Atkins while sacking McCown on a third and two. When it looked like the Bengals had made a stop, Atkins was flagged and Tampa Bay ended up scoring their lone touchdown of the day.