The Cincinnati Bengals may not have had Tyler Eifert when they took on the Browns in Cleveland, but that didn't stop them from moving the ball down the field with ease. A number of Bengals receivers were able to take advantage of increased opportunities including a few rookies.
Rookie C.J. Uzomah was active for his first NFL regular-season game and he caught a pass on a fourth-and-one play in the fourth quarter, converting a first down. It was a great play for the rookie fifth round pick out of Auburn who was able to get into the game and play due to Eifert being out with a stinger.
C.J. Uzomah with his first career reception, converting a fourth down. https://t.co/YxXKEHtva9— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 6, 2015
Uzomah didn't do much else, but he did record a tackle on special teams as well.
"That’s what we needed," Marvin Lewis said after the game. "We needed everybody else to come step up and (Tyler) Kroft and Uzomah, these guys to have been with us, and that’s why we brought them here. They went out here today and demonstrated why we feel so good about those young guys as well."
Beyond the rookies, A.J. Green had a great day, recording 128 yards and a touchdown. Green has now recorded 1,000 yards in each of his first five NFL seasons, a feat only Randy Moss has accomplished. Another impressive statistical accomplishment that occurred in the game was quarterback Andy Dalton joining Peyton Manning as the only two quarterbacks to throw for 3,000 yards in their first five seasons.
"It’s not about the stats," Dalton told Bengals.com. "But to have our names with those two guys is pretty special." Green added, "It’s great because Randy Moss is a guy I looked up to as a kid."
After today's win, Dalton also now has the most road wins (24) by a quarterback in his first five seasons in the Super Bowl era. "When we go one the road, we have that extra focus," Dalton said reflecting on the achievement. "We have been able to do that since I’ve been here and we need to keep that going."
Dalton had a great game, completing 14 of 19 passing attempts for 220 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown for a season-high 146.8 passer rating. From an audible that resulted in a touchdown to his ability to distribute the ball to a variety of receivers, Dalton was doing seemingly everything right in the Bengals' win over the Browns. He also had his seventh game this season without an interception and now has 23 passing touchdowns to just 6 interceptions on the season.
"His consistency is tremendous, and he keeps raising the level," Lewis said of Dalton. "The guys around him keep raising their level and it’s great to see it. They know as well as they play, he’ll play even better. That’s the thing that we’re proud and excited about all of the time."
Other than Green's 128 yard day, Marvin Jones recorded five receptions on five targets for 55 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Tyler Kroft recorded his second catch in as many games, this time, a 17 yard grab that was much more impressive than his four yard catch and fall last week. Rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher was targeted for a touchdown for the second week in a row, but he was unable to bring the ball in. Fisher and fellow rookie draft pick, and first-time active player Cedric Ogbuehi were able to play a handful of snaps on offense, especially in the fourth quarter, gaining valuable playing time in a blowout win.
"With our injuries eight rookies suited up today - eight of our draft picks, which was great for them to get some playing time and an opportunity for them to get out there and play today," Lewis said. "It was a good opportunity for them, and I thought the other guys raised their level, which was what we needed with the guys out that we had out today to raise the level around the rest of the football team. I was proud of that."
The rookies put up a good fight, as did the rest of the team. 12 Bengals players were targeted on passes throughout the game. Rookie Mario Alford had his first NFL catch too, though his came on a 15 yard pass from AJ McCarron once Dalton was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter.
AJ McCarron to Mario Alford, his first career reception. https://t.co/7i76XbzZCO— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 6, 2015
The full list of Bengals receivers who had a catch in order of their total yards is: Green, Jones, Kroft, Alford, Giovani Bernard, Ryan Hewitt, Rex Burkhead and Uzomah. Those who were targeted but didn't make a catch are Mohamed Sanu, Jeremy Hill, Fisher and Brandon Tate. On the ground, Hill added 98 yards, Bernard had 26, Sanu ran for 7 and Burkhead gained 2 yards on a run in the fourth quarter in garbage time.
"We know how this game works, and down the road, we are going to need some of those guys to step up and play," Dalton said of the ability for the rookies to rise to the occasion not only on Sunday, but moving forward this season. "I am glad we were able to get some experience out there today."
When you're 10-2, have eight rookies playing, three starters sitting and you still win by a 34 point margin, allowing just three points scored by the opposing offense, it's a successful afternoon.
But, what does 10-2 mean? Dalton knows. "10-2 gives us a chance to be 11-2," he said. It also gives the Bengals the opportunity to clinch the AFC North next week if they achieve that 11-2 record and beat Pittsburgh at home.