With the Eagles’ early-season momentum, many Bengals fans chalked up the matchup with the Eagles as a guaranteed loss. Philadelphia has certainly changed since then, but the Bengals have changed too. The Bengals smoked the Eagles on Sunday in a game that was much more one-sided than it probably appeared in the box score.
Cincinnati scored on all four of its first half drives, taking a 19-0 lead at halftime. In fact, early offensive dominance from the Bengals hadn’t been seen to this degree since before the 2015 season. The Bengals hadn’t scored three times in their first three drives since the 2014 season, and they managed to score on all four of their first half drives on Sunday against the Eagles.
Things were clicking on defense as well. Apart from a drive in which Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal, shanking it off the right upright in Mike Nugent-esque fashion, Cincinnati’s defense was virtually perfect. The Bengals held the Eagles to 3.3 yards per play, compared to the Bengals’ 7.3 yards per play on offense sans A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. The Eagles only managed 104 net yards in the first half, and things could’ve been even worse. Three defenders on the Bengals dropped potential interceptions.
Cody Core made up for a bad play in which he collided with Rex Burkhead on a run, hauling in a 50-yard bomb on the ensuing play for the longest play of the first half. It was his first NFL catch and it was a great one. It also was a beautiful throw from Andy Dalton, who had a great game at home. Jeremy Hill only gained eight yards on nine first half carries, but he punched in a two-yard touchdown run. Tyler Eifert added a 13-yard touchdown catch along with two Nugent field goals for the Bengals’ 19-0 halftime lead. Interestingly enough, Nugent was better on first half field goals (2-for-2) than he was extra points (1-for-2).
The first drive of the second half was all Brandon LaFell. The veteran reeled in a 44-yard bomb and caught an eight-yard touchdown pass to extend the Bengals’ shutout lead to 26 points. Andy Dalton’s pass to LaFell on the touchdown was an absolute dagger, lasered above two defenders into a place where only the receiver could make the catch in the back of the end zone. The score extended the Bengals’ consecutive possessions with a score to five, the first time in more than 100 games Cincinnati put points on the board in its first five drives.
The Bengals’ defense faced its first significant obstacle toward earning a shutout, as Philadelphia had driven to Cincinnati’s own 23-yard-line. However, Vontaze Burfict wasn’t having any of that. The linebacker picked off a Carson Wentz pass, preserving the Bengals’ shutout hopes, at least at this point of the game.
Carlos Dunlap helped out on the play, hitting Wentz’s arm to turn the pass into an intercept-able ball. The defensive end had also batted three passes throughout the game, raising his season total to 13.
After Nugent converted his third field goal of the game, the Bengals’ magical day on defense came to a close. Philadelphia went for it on fourth-and-five, and Zach Ertz capitalized, scoring a 13-yard touchdown to end the Bengals’ hopes of a shutout.
Two fumbles — one from Rex Burkhead and one from Jake Fisher gave the Bengals scares later on in the game, but the Eagles never managed to pull within a significant striking defense. Darren Sproles scored on a two-yard touchdown run, but the Eagles were otherwise unspectacular on the day.
But worse than Fisher’s fumble was that he was injured on the play and never returned with a knee injury.
The Bengals’ defense rattle Wentz all day. That continued when George Iloka deflected a pass to fellow safety Shawn Williams, who gladly picked it off. Later on, Burfict picked off his second pass of the game, sparking commentator Charles Davis to claim no other inside linebacker in the NFL has been playing at a level as high as Burfict. It was certainly nice to hear the broadcast team praising the Bengals linebacker, since many games see the announcers only mention negative remarks regarding Burfict.
Nugent banked in another field goal following the Williams pick, adding to the Bengals’ lead and making it a 32-14 game. It was a huge game for the Bengals, as their destruction of the Eagles showed Cincinnati is a team that will not just bow out now that it’s essentially out of playoff contention. And while the win won’t help the Bengals’ draft position, it will certainly improve team morale and potentially spark positive change for the future.