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What We Learned: Bengals vs Broncos

On Monday night, the bright lights came on and something happened, the Bengals didn't disappear. After a sluggish start, Bengals fans - and all of America - were introduced to a different primetime version of the Bengals: A team that came to play.

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That win was bigger than a regular win - that win was important for the player's psyche

The Bengals heard the criticism and answered the call. Don't let them fool you, the Bengals have not only heard the talk about their primetime struggles, but it bothered them as well. For the past four years the Bengals have played well on Sunday afternoons yet got no love from the rest of America because the only time America saw them was at night...and at night they sucked. The Bengals needed that win to prove to themselves that they can compete with the big boys. I for one still believe the Broncos are the best team in the AFC and Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL and the Bengals just proved to America, and more importantly, themselves, that they can beat the best. That cannot be understated.

Previous Bengals teams would have folded after Dalton's pick six

Don't ask me how the interception was upheld, that I don't know. What I do know is A.J. Green was open and Dalton threw a terrible pass that not only was turned into seven points for the Broncos, it essentially caused Dalton's best target to be knocked out of the game. You heard it in the stands. You felt it in your home. "Here we go again," "the Bengals are doomed," etc. etc. etc. Only this Bengals team didn't respond the way we thought they would. On the very next offensive play Jeremy Hill introduced himself to America, tied the game, exposed Denver's defense and confused Bengals fans all across the world. Why didn't the Bengals fold? The Bengals don't respond? Apparently Jeremy Hill and the 2014 Bengals didn't want to play along. They took the incessant negativity of WHO-DEY Nation and "turnt" it into fuel and showed Bengals fans everywhere that maybe we can believe in this team. Maybe being a Bengals fan is not a curse. Maybe, just maybe, being a Bengals fan can be cool again.

That defense can win a championship

We have been waiting all year for the 2013 top five defense. We got it last week, but we didn't want to believe in it - after all, the dominating performance was nice, but it was against an over-hyped and over-matched rookie. Well, Peyton Manning is not Johnny Manziel. When you can confuse arguably the best quarterback of all-time, that is something worth taking note of. If the defense we have seen the last two weeks continues to show up, this team can win a Super Bowl. That is a big if, but it is encouraging.

If you are hungry (or a Dalton hater), Andy Dalton is serving crow all week long - go get some

Dalton likely won't get credit for winning. He did nothing spectacular. He threw the pick six everyone was waiting for him to throw. He threw high and made a few questionable decisions. He was the guy everyone said he was...except he wasn't. Dalton responded after the pick six and had a solid game, both with his arm and his feet. Dalton lead the team back from two deficits and did so without Green (or Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert for that matter). Dalton built up a big lead on one of the best quarterbacks of all-time only to see Manning take the lead back. Then Dalton took the lead back...from Manning.

You can tell me Dalton didn't do anything special. You can tell me a lot of his passes were screens and short throws. You can tell me he could have had two or three other picks. And you would be correct. But, what you can't ignore is the fact that Andy Dalton didn't turn into the pumpkin the media (and maybe you, too) claimed him to be. Andy Dalton had twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. Andy Dalton led his team back against Peyton Manning, on primetime, with the playoffs on the line. Andy Dalton outplayed Peyton Manning. And, Andy Dalton showed you that he can win when the lights are on. He can win the "big game." Andy Dalton also proved that his critics are sounding more and more ignorant. The Bengals can win with that Andy Dalton - and they proved it, for all of America to see.

Jeremy Hill is a really good running back

Going for 148 yards for two touchdowns and 5.9 YPA against the 31st ranked run defense (Cleveland) is one thing. Following it up with 147 yards, one touchdown and 6.7 YPA against the 2nd ranked run defense (Denver) is another. Coming into the game, Denver allowed an average of 71.6 YPG. Hill went for 85 on one run - more importantly, a run that came on the play after Dalton's pick six, and stopped the proverbial "Primetime Bungles" snowball from rolling downhill. Hill now has a 5.1 YPA average on the year, nine touchdowns and has rushed for 147+ yards in four of his last eight games. Jeremy Hill is the real deal and he and Giovani Bernard may pack the most dangerous one-two punch in the NFL right now.

Jeremy Hill needs to learn to hold onto the ball

As good as Hill is, and he is damn good, he needs to work on his ball security. In 225 touches (199 carries and 25 receptions), Hill has five fumbles - or one every 45 touches. That ties Hill for third in the NFL as far as fumbles go and tied for most as far as running backs go (Joique Bell and Jamaal Charles). Hill has got to stop putting the ball on the ground. His fumble against Cleveland turned that game and his fumble on Monday Night was a 10-14 point swing and nearly cost the Bengals the game.

Dre Kirkpatrick has had a great year and the time has come for him to replace Newman - permanently

I like Terrance Newman, but he is hurt, old, or both. Either way, Newman was outmatched on Monday night and Kirkpatrick played like the player the Bengals thought he was when they took him in the first round back in 2012. Kirkpatrick has had a Pro Bowl year as a gunner and it seems to have boosted his confidence -- you are seeing it translate into his play at corner.

Adam Jones can still impact a game on defense and special teams

Not that many were questioning his return abilities, but Jones had been quiet of late. Jones likes the bright lights and he came up big when it was needed most. Jones' big kick return came right after Denver's own big kick return and quick touchdown out of the half and brought momentum back to the home team and his interception was a nice catch that should have given the Bengals the lead back, if not for Reggie Nelson's stupid penalty.

Rey Maualuga has had a great season... and few will give him credit for it

Few have been more critical of Maualuga the past few years as I have been, but he is having a very solid year. Since his return to the lineup in Week 11, the Bengals have held five of their six opponents to 85 yards or less.

Despite the win, the Bengals will only receive back-handed compliments

Leading up to the game, the narrative among the national media was all the same, very predictable and very fair - the Bengals/Andy Dalton cannot win on the big stage. Well, the Bengals won on the big stage against the arguably the best quarterback of all-time and did so in convincing fashion and all the same media could talk about on Tuesday was the struggles of Peyton Manning, how Manning is old and how he struggles in inclement weather. Somehow the Bengals defense had little to do with Manning's struggles and Andy Dalton had little to do with the Bengals 37 points. Not surprising, just frustrating.

I don't know what it means to have the ground help secure a catch

Aqib Talib made one hell of a play on his pick six, but the ball clearly hit the ground and bounced into his lap. It is my understanding that the ground cannot help secure a catch and that ball moved... a bunch! How that was not overturned is beyond me and continues to show why I believe that the officiating this year, both for and against the Bengals has been terrible.

The roughing the passer against Dalton was awful

Speaking of bad officiating, Marvin Austin seemed to do everything by the book in his hit on Dalton...and yet he still was flagged. If that was roughing the passer, I don't know how a defender can tackle the quarterback.

No Bengal has caused me more anger than Jermaine Gresham

Jermaine Gresham had a good game catching the ball. He also fumbled...again, fighting for unnecessary yards while holding onto the ball with one hand. He also got blown up by Von Miller on the play where Miller took the ball from Hill. Luckily for Gresham, his mistakes didn't cost the Bengals, but it seems like in every game the guy is making huge mistakes, physically or mentally.

According to talking heads, Peyton Manning has gotten really old in the last five weeks

Despite his league-leading 39 touchdowns, nearly 4,500 yards and nearly 67% completion percentage, Peyton Manning is apparently old and declining all of the sudden. I would gladly have this declining quarterback. Remember when Tom Brady and the Patriots were dead after Week 4 this year...