How sweet it is.
Not only did Cincinnati comfortably defeat Cleveland during Thursday Night Football -- a radical departure from last year's 24-3 debacle just about one year ago to the day on the same stage -- the Bengals never appeared panicked.
There wasn't specific domination in any one area. Instead, the Bengals were men conducting their professions with confidence. They were workers, here to do a job and accomplishing that task with relative control. This was Andy Dalton shrugging off long-standing criticisms about night games played on the national stage. This was the world discovering what we've always known about Tyler Eifert, who scored three touchdowns on Thursday, giving him nine on the season... soon he'll begin plowing through franchise records.
Dalton finished the game with a 78 percent completion rate (21/27) with three touchdowns thrown and a season-high passer rating of 139.8. Three of Eifert's five receptions turned into touchdowns while Marvin Jones and A.J. Green added balanced contributions. Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill generated over 150 yards rushing combined. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins helped influence Cincinnati's radical shift in defensive attitude, generating sacks on ensuing possessions after the Bengals took a 24-10 lead.
It was clear that the Bengals entered Thursday's game with confident expectations to win. They did. It was a first half of indifference and a second half of separation. Despite a 14-10 halftime lead, a comfortable Bengals squad scored 17 unanswered points while the defense held Cleveland to less than 10 yards (in the second half!!) until there were four minutes remaining in the game -- any gains after that were applied during garbage time.
Cincinnati hits the midseason mark by expanding their undefeated record to 8-0 with an upcoming Monday Night meeting against the Texans at Paul Brown Stadium on deck.
Cincinnati's opening possession of the game was a balanced effort, factoring Jeremy Hill against the league's worst rushing defense while Andy Dalton shuffled with short confident passes, mostly over the middle. The 10-play possession spanned 63 yards and resulted in a 7-0 lead on Tyler Eifert's nine-yard touchdown reception. Cleveland responded with their own 71-yard drive with Johnny Manziel taking advantage of opportune scrambles against a Bengals defense familiarly willing to leave their feet during missed tackles.
With help from Randy Starks, flagged for taunting midway into the second quarter and an offsides penalty that nullified an incomplete fourth down pass, Cincinnati extended their lead 14-3 with 4:34 remaining in the first half on Tyler Eifert's second touchdown reception. Initially Dalton targeted Ryan Hewitt out of the backfield. Despite the officials missing a significant hold on Hewitt, Dalton scrambled and found Eifert in the endzone for the score.
Yet, Cleveland wasn't deterred, expertly moving 92 yards from their own eight-yard line and scoring a touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the first half, reducing Cincinnati's lead 14-10.
Then there were the officials:
According to NFL rules, wrapping your arm around a receivers neck while the football is in flight is not illegal. Ridiculous.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
Oh, and according to NFL rules, holding Ryan Hewitt out of the backfield isn't illegal either.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
According to league rules, this hold is not illegal. https://t.co/GIIGeEe4Or— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
Both teams exchanged punts to open the second half, with Margus Hunt (presumably) tipping Andy Lee's 28-yard punt, allowing Cincinnati to add a Mike Nugent field goal with 4:05 remaining in the third. The Bengals added another touchdown on Mohamed Sanu's 25-yard reverse with 13:35 remaining in the game, a play after Marvin Jones' 25-yard reception.
Touchdown! #Bengals take 24-10 lead on Sanu 25 yard reverse- https://t.co/LjzGreKUrp— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
THE TYLER EIFERT MONTAGE
Touchdown! #Bengals lead 7-0 on Dalton's TD pass to Eifert. https://t.co/YrSthCTUns— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
#Bengals take a 14-3 lead with 4:34 remaining in the second on another Dalton-to-Eifert connection. https://t.co/vvOCNVN9i1— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015
Tyler Eifert with his third touchdown tonight. #Bengals now lead 31-10. https://t.co/HkVTFNsDyK— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 6, 2015