It was a long offseason; not because of an NFL-driven controversy or legal entanglements such as the narrative from a history becoming too distant to recall. It was a boring summer in Cincinnati. The Bengals were workmanlike in their profession, led by top-notch characters, driven toward perfection, all of whom could advance their station as the next generation of superstars. Sunday's game against the Raiders marked several important events:
- Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones returned after being out last season.
- Michael Johnson returned to the Bengals, starting at defensive end after spending the summer on the sidelines with a bum knee.
- A.J. Green played his first regular season game since signing a four-year extension, fiscally placing him in the market with the league's best receivers.
Yet these narratives pale in comparison to the grand scheme of things. The Bengals, looking to make a postseason appearance for a fifth consecutive season, are entering 2015 with many of their starters playing their final year under contract. And within a more localized setting, Cincinnati had never won an NFL game in Oakland (0-10) and are 1-4 against the Raiders when the games were played in Los Angeles. By my second grade math, the Bengals entered Sunday's game with a combined 1-14 record against the Raiders in games played in Oakland and Los Angeles.
TAKING A QUICK 10-0 LEAD
Cincinnati opened the season with a pinch of perfection, forcing the Raiders to go three and out and then responding with an 11-play touchdown drive, capped off by a beautiful Jeremy Hill touchdown on fourth and one from the Raiders' three-yard line.
Jeremy Hill, on 4th and one, bounces outside and scored a TD! Bengals leading 7-0. https://t.co/hcy1xNwPic— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 13, 2015
After trading punts, Cincinnati tacked another three points during a 32-yard Mike Nugent field goal with 9:92 remaining in the second. Mohamed Sanu, sprinted down the sidelines on a 28-yard wide receiver screen, and Tyler Eifert's 31-yard reception down the middle of the field, got the assist. Unfortunately, the possession stalled, in part due to a rare dropped pass by A.J. Green in the endzone.
JEREMY HILL MAKES IT TWO
With 5:49 remaining in the second quarter, after Adam Jones forced a Derek Carr fumble out of bounds, Oakland elected to go for it on fourth down from their own 45-yard line. Failing to generate a push, Cincinnati's defense front-stuffed Oakland, forcing a turnover on downs. Three plays later, Green converted another third down with a 30-yard reception, a beautiful throw exposing a significant gap in Oakland's zone defense. Cincinnati expanded their lead 17-0 with Jeremy Hill's second rushing touchdown of the afternoon.
Jeremy Hill with his second TD of the afternoon, giving the Bengals a 17-0 lead with 2:21 remaining in the 2nd https://t.co/5lCkWo3dIh— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 13, 2015
TYLER EIFERT PLAYS BIG IN OAKLAND
One thing is clear... Tyler Eifert is the weapon everyone had been expecting when he was selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Whether he was exposing massive gaps in Oakland's zone coverage or being blanketed by multiple defenders, Eifert was finding ways to make plays.
By the conclusion of the first half, Eifert had generated 96 yards receiving on eight receptions, including a beautiful 13-yard touchdown that expanded Cincinnati's lead, 24-0, with seven seconds remaining in the first half.
Tyler Eifert TD, giving the Bengals a 24-0 lead w/ seven seconds left in the half. https://t.co/Jc6tLuZeBm— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 13, 2015
Despite a pedantic start to the third quarter, the type of yawner which brings water into people's eyes with only one first down in two possessions, the Bengals began eating chunks of yards during an impressive 80-yard touchdown possession midway into the third quarter. Rex Burkhead picked up a 24-yard reception while Dalton was scrambling and Giovani Bernard had a 28 yard sprint bouncing toward the left sidelines to help put Cincinnati inside Oakland's 10-yard line with 3:45 remaining in the third. Dalton noticed the single coverage on Eifert during the following play and trusted his athletic tight end to fight for the football. He did.
Tyler Eifert with an 8 yard TD!! Bengals lead 30-0. https://t.co/Qz6AJQoiOc— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 13, 2015
By this point in the game, Cincinnati was comfortably leading 30-0 with 3:45 remaining in the third.
According to ESPN Stats and Info department, Eifert is only the third Bengals player in franchise history with 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns during the season opener (A.J. Green, 2013 and Eric Crabtree, 1969).
Mike Nugent added three to the scoreboard, late in the third quarter on a 35-yard conversion, expanding Cincinnati's lead 33-0. Oakland added a touchdown with 7:55 remaining in the game, mostly against Cincinnati's prevention defense, with backup players sprinkled across the field, breaking Cincinnati's shutout.
Cincinnati will host the San Diego Chargers for their regular season home opener at Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST.
THE INACTIVES: Cincinnati kept four wide receivers on their gameday roster, placing Greg Little and Mario Alford on the team's inactive list. We should probably expect this configuration with Rex Burkhead projected as a significant contributor from the slot. In addition, four rookies sat, with Alford and tight end C.J. Uzomah joining the injured cornerback Josh Shaw (groin) and defensive end Marcus Hardison (knee). Defensive linemen Brandon Thompson and Margus Hunt, each dealing with preseason injuries, didn't dress against the Raiders on Sunday.