The Bengals woke up on Sunday ready to show the nation they’re still an ultra talented team with plenty of potential to dominate good opponents. But, it came after they already lost seven of the first 11 games and essentially eliminated themselves from all realistic playoff scenarios. Still, it was nice to see the Bengals string together a dominant win. The win will hopefully be a big boost of confidence for a Bengals team hoping that 2017 will be a bounce-back season.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this performance came too late for the Bengals. In fact, with the Ravens and Steelers both winning their respective games this week, the Bengals remain two and a half games out of first place in the division with only four games left to play. Based on the other AFC North performances this week, the Ravens and Steelers shouldn’t have any problem eliminating the Bengals from contention in the two weeks. But, based on the Bengals’ performance this week, as explained by Katherine Terrell of ESPN, there’s no reason the Bengals should have let it get to this point in the first place.
Cincinnati (4-7-1) looked like a new team, finally putting together its most complete game of the season.
The Bengals' only flaw Sunday was special teams. Kicker Mike Nugent missed his fifth extra point of the season, and a third-quarter kickoff by Nugent was returned 61 yards, leading to the Eagles' first touchdown on the ensuing drive. Nugent finished 4-for-4 on field goals and 2-of-3 on PATs.
It was how many had expected the Bengals to perform when they returned most of the team that made it to the playoffs last season. But if the half-empty stands were any indication, the light bulb came on too late for the season to be salvaged.
It has been a long time since the Bengals have felt the thrill of winning a game against a good team. Of the Bengals’ wins this season, you could say the Dolphins (7-5) are the best team the Bengals have beaten. The last time they won, it came against a Browns team that has still yet to win a game and might end up as the second 0-16 team in NFL history. The Browns will have an opportunity to take advantage of the Bengals next week, the only team left on their schedule with four wins or less.
Other than the win over the Eagles this week, the Bengals’ only wins came against the Dolphins, Browns, and Jets. Few would argue that the currently 0-12 Browns count as a strong opponent, while the Dolphins were arguably the worst team in the NFL around the time when the Bengals played them, despite their second-half resurgence. The Jets have been bad this season, winning just three games heading into their Monday Night Football game against the Colts.
The Eagles have been in a bit of a rut lately, but they’re still the same team who beat the Steelers, Vikings, and Giants That means it’s easily the Bengals’ best win of the season and, as explained by The Canadian Press and TSN, it was a long-overdue chance for the Bengals players and fans to celebrate.
The Bengals scored the first six times they got the ball and then held on at the end.
Forty-two days since their previous win, they had something to celebrate.
Andy Dalton threw a pair of touchdown passes and Cincinnati finally got its depleted offence moving without receiver A.J. Green.
The Bengals emerging from their long slump by sending the Philadelphia Eagles to their most lopsided loss of the season, 32-14 on Sunday.
"You kind of forget that winning feeling," said tight end Tyler Eifert, who had a touchdown catch.
That winning feeling was something the Bengals desperately needed, and it’s also nice that it happened in Paul Brown Stadium. Losing in the NFL is frustrating enough as it is. But, when you’re at home, winning and losing means even more as the team has to directly answer to the home crowd. With the win, the Bengals’ record in Paul Brown Stadium climbs to 3-2, allowing a terrible season to feel just a bit more bearable for the fans in Cincinnati.
Still, despite the awesome nature of the game for most members of the team, there was still the issue of Mike Nugent’s continued scoring futility. With yet another missed extra point, it’s getting harder and harder to understand why the Bengals continue trying to justify Nugent’s employment. Weirdly enough, the AFC North might currently be the home of the NFL’s best and worst kicker, Nugent and the Ravens’ Justin Tucker. Tucker has been so good this year that Nugent might do well to read Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback’s interview with Tucker and take the advice to heart.
I think with the spate of PAT misses—Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent missed his fifth in the last five games (how long can he keep his job?)—I went to the man who is state of the art right now, Baltimore Justin Tucker. He hit a 55-yard field goal in the 38-6 rout of Miami Sunday, and was perfect on five PATs. For the year, he’s the only perfect kicker in the league: 20 of 20 on extra points, 28 of 28 on field goals. A mini-interview on being perfect:
MMQB: What’s been the key to perfection this year?
Tucker: Practice, lots of practice. And quality repetition. I also think having a really good long snapper and really good holder are really important. When you’re got a guy as diligent as [long-snapper] Morgan Cox consistently throwing the ball back at 12 o’clock [the optimal position where the snapper’s hands are], who knows exactly how many rotations the ball’s going to spin on every throw, so it’ll be perfect when it gets to the holder, and when you’ve got the kind of holder Sam Koch is … he knows exactly where to put the ball every time; I swear he can put the ball within a quarter-inch every time of where it’s supposed, those are huge factors in the success of a kicker.
Regardless of Nugent’s futility, a big reason why the Bengals put together such a dominant win this week was that quarterback Andy Dalton managed to look really good, despite missing two of his favorite targets in A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. In their absence, he found Tyler Eifert, Brandon LaFell, Cody Core, James Wright and Tyler Boyd, among others. It was a truly dominating performance, as explained by Zac Jackson of Pro Football Talk:
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a big game, and the Eagles could neither keep up nor keep the Bengals from marching up and down the field.
The Bengals won, 32-14, and scored the game’s first 29 points. Dalton threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert late in the first half to make it 19-0 and another to Brandon LaFell on the first drive of the second as the Bengals put it out of reach.
Dalton threw for 332 yards as the Bengals won for the first time since Oct. 23.
If there was one particular point of excitement for Bengals fans in this win that took the Bengals way too long to come up with, it was the way that their passing game played without Green and Bernard. The Bengals selected Boyd and Core in the draft as well as bringing in LaFell as a free agent to help with the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the offseason.
With the performances we saw this week, it appears as though the Bengals’ receiving corps does, in fact, have plenty of potential going forward behind Green. It helps the Bengals as a whole, but it specifically helps Dalton’s ability to trust multiple options on the field. Hopefully this means 2016 was the adjustment period for the Bengals’ passing game to go off in 2017, like we saw against the Eagles.
Twitter was particularly talkative about the Bengals’ overdue success that was finally found this week. Here are some highlights: