Last week, Arizona easily dismissed Cincinnati's defense, outscoring the Bengals 21-0 in the third quarter while the offense collapsed into a supermassive black hole. This week, it was a similar story, though with different participants. Cincinnati secured their ninth win of the season, taking a 17-7 half-time lead and expanding it into a 31-7 victory against the Rams to bring the Bengals to a 9-2 start.
Cincinnati heavily applied a running philosophy to initiate a game-winning third quarter, calling five consecutive runs (four to Jeremy Hill and one to Giovani Bernard). Gaining momentum with their lethargic running game is encouraging. Yet, as the running game gained momentum, the Bengals called a pass on their sixth play of the third quarter with Andy Dalton badly under-throwing his target leading to an interception. Thankfully, the turnover didn't result in a bloody lip and the defense forced St. Louis to punt.
That's when things got fun:
- Giovani Bernard gained 45 yards on a running back screen (8:32 remaining in the third) to the Rams 28-yard line.
- Two plays later, Andy Dalton drilled A.J. Green over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown (7:07 remaining in the third). That gave the Bengals a 24-7 lead.
- Leon Hall on the Rams' ensuing possession picked off Nick Foles, returning the interception 19 yards for a touchdown (5:29 remaining in the third), giving the Bengals a 31-7 lead.
By this point, it was over. St. Louis didn't threaten and by the three minute mark, the Bengals rotated backups into the game.
Jeremy Hill limped off the field after this tackle. https://t.co/7hvKyqs0YD— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 29, 2015
Perhaps no one was more effective on Sunday than defensive tackle Geno Atkins, routinely impacting plays against the pass (sacks) and against the run (several tackles for loss). In fact, you could argue that the defense played a superstar role during Sunday's game. In addition to three interceptions and nearly 10 plays that forced a loss, the defense scored a touchdown and held superstar rookie Todd Gurley to 19 yards rushing on nine carries.
While Cincinnati's defense forced three punts on St. Louis' opening three possessions -- generating only two first downs -- the offense feigned their own struggles early, going three and out on their ensuing two possessions. However, on their second, Cincinnati received an early Christmas gift when the Rams ran into punter Kevin Huber. Now, instead of another three-and-out, the Bengals took advantage of their renewed life. Easily, the Bengals moved to the Rams six-yard line, with the help of four first downs. Yet, the "let's get cute" Hue show continued when Andy Dalton -- who took his time flipping the football to a wide open (and eligible) Jake Fisher at the back of the endzone -- was nearly picked off. Regardless, Mike Nugent converted the 21-yard field goal, expanding Cincinnati's lead with 10:10 remaining in the second.
St. Louis immediately responded. Facing a second down from the Rams 27-yard line, running back Todd Gurley, taking the direct snap, handed the ball off to wide receiver Tavon Austin. The receiver bends around the ridge edge on a jet sweep before he was finally tackled at Cincinnati's 13-yard line. Two plays later, Austin absorbed another handoff and easily bent around the edge, scoring a touchdown with 8:29 remaining in the second. The Bengals answered with an 80-yard field goal drive, this time resulting in Tyler Eifert's 12th touchdown of the season with 3:27 remaining in the second.
St. Louis, willing to concede the possession with a pair of short gains without any noticeable urgency (they were huddling), had third and eight at the two minute warning. Carlos Dunlap dropped quarterback Nick Foles for a sack, forcing the Rams to punt and... no? No. Officials flagged Dre Kirkpatrick for a defensive hold, indirectly breathing urgency into St. Louis' two minute drill. Within five plays, the Rams moved from their own 35-yard line to the Bengals 23, facing first down with 44 seconds remaining. However, just when life was injected into an unlikely possession, it died just as quickly when Reggie Nelson picked off the football to end the first half. Nelson now leads the league with six interceptions on the season.