Hue Jackson, a beloved figure in Cincinnati, made his return to the Queen City after leaving to become head coach for the Cleveland Browns in January. Jackson spent two seasons as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator, in addition to other assistant coaching gigs throughout the years. Armed with Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan at quarterback, Jackson turned a prideful defense into toddlers sucking their preverbal thumbs. Thankfully, Cincinnati’s offense didn’t need them on Sunday and fortunately, the defense eventually recovered.
Another big return? Tyler Eifert, who has been MIA since suffering a needless ankle injury during last season’s Pro Bowl (and an unrelated back injury), missing the first six games. Predictably, he received the loudest cheer during pregame introductions. Somewhat predictably, he was largely MIA, save for a handful of plays (two targets, one reception for nine yards). Perhaps the intention is to ease Eifert into game conditions — or maybe they’re like me, holding my breath everytime he hits the turf (will he get up?). Regardless, he made his debut with 5:12 remaining in the first quarter as Andy Dalton was sacked on the play.
Another return? Jeremy Hill and the Bengals rushing offense, with Hill generating a career-high 168 yards rushing while totaling 271 yards rushing as a team; their first 200-yard effort since Week 16 against the Denver Broncos in 2014 and seventh-highest all-time rushing effort. Obviously the passing game provided a major assist, with another 300-yard showing, giving Cincinnati 559 yards from scrimmage — tied for seventh-most in franchise history.
Cincinnati, who has lost four of their last five against probable playoff teams, hosted their first home game since the Thursday night win against the Dolphins. They desperately needed to salvage their weak start to this season — which is drawing comparisons to the 2010 squad — to make an eventual postseason run.
Bengals: What can we do to fix these symptoms of suckage?
Doctor: Play the Cleveland Browns.
With a handful of stutter steps, the results were amazing. Yes, yes. It was Cleveland. They suck... hard. However, Cincinnati’s offense was explosive, starting with Hill, who sprinted 40 yards in the first quarter, setting up a Giovani Bernard touchdown. Hill added a 74-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 28-17 lead early in the third quarter. In addition, Cincinnati’s passing game progressively got more explosive with a 44-yard (wide open) score by Brandon LaFell, a 48-yard hail mary to A.J. Green at halftime and another 48-yarder midway into the third quarter.
Speaking of this: A.J. Green’s 48-yard touchdown concluded a series of questionable decisions made by the Bengals, who had two timeouts when Kevin Hogan scrambled for seven yards just after the two minute warning. Rather than burn a timeout, the Bengals allowed the clock to run and called consecutive runs to Giovani Bernard before using their second timeout of the half with 58 ticks on the clock. Regardless, they scored a touchdown. Planned it, bro or A.J. Green bailing the team out of a sticky situation? You decide.
Cincinnati’s performance wasn’t entirely great. In fact, heading into the midseason turn next week in London, this defense is extremely worrisome. They allowed 180 yards rushing, the third 150-yard or worse performance this season. Making matters worse, they were terrible against Cody Kessler’s replacement, Kevin Hogan, who expertly navigated around the defense for 104 yards rushing. They didn’t game-plan against Hogan, thinking Kessler would make it through the game he started, but they’re professionals and talented enough to adjust.
After missing another scoring opportunity (Mike Nugent’s 40-yard field goal miss), the Browns pieced together a pair of scoring drives that combined for 145 yards, 19 plays, and 10 points in the second quarter. During the third quarter, Shawn Williams lost a fumble during an interception return and Derron Smith was called for a (questionable) roughing the punter late in the third quarter. Mike Nugent missed another field goal later. Both misses were Nugent’s only misses from less than 50 yards all season.
With those unresolved issues heading into London, the return of Tyler Eifert (from injury), Jeremy Hill and Cincinnati’s rushing offense (from suckage), was a welcome surprise from an otherwise depressing season.
See you in London, friends (not figuratively).