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What we learned from the Bengals’ victory over the Eagles

Finally, a Bengals win. It had been far too long.

The Bengals have won a football game for the first time in more than a month. It’s a weird feeling, watching a team win a game and not remembering exactly how to act afterward. It’s also strange to hear friends and family come up and spark a conversation about how the Bengals looked good on Sunday, after not having these types of conversations for quite some time. Nonetheless, the Bengals’ three-game losing streak has finally come to a close. Here’s what we learned in the Bengals’ victory over the Eagles.

It’s been a long time since Andy Dalton had a clean pocket to work out of. He finally had one on Sunday.

Prior to playing the Eagles, Dalton’s last sack-less game occurred on November 29, 2015. (Fun fact, I was at that game and haven’t been to one since — if you’re superstitious and maybe think the Bengals’ streak of Dalton taking sacks has something to do with my not being at games, I’ll gladly accept any tickets.) It’s doubtful Cedric Ogbuehi’s benching was the only reason Dalton didn’t take a sack — from top to bottom, the Bengals’ offensive line played fairly well. That said, benching a weak link on the line certainly didn’t hurt.

Even with improved blocking from the offensive line, Cincinnati’s running game is sporadic at best.

Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead gained a collective 71 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. It’s clear the offensive line isn’t able to generate lanes for the backs to run through and as a result, the rushing yards are not accumulating.

The Bengals’ signing of Brandon LaFell might be the best bargain deal in all of free agency.

LaFell’s signing in Cincinnati didn’t exactly go over very smoothly with fans. That’s not to say there weren’t fans who supported the signing, but many believed putting LaFell in the lineup as the team’s number two wideout would be a drastic downgrade from Marvin Jones. And while LaFell clearly isn’t the player Jones is, his production has been right around that of the departed Jones for nearly the entire season — and he’s been doing it for a third of the price of the now-Lions receiver.

The Bengals certainly hope Tyler Boyd and/or Cody Core can eventually develop into the team’s second-fiddle to A.J. Green, but LaFell has excelled in his role and has definitely earned the opportunity to sign an extension in Cincinnati should he desire one.

Tyler Eifert has not been very involved in the passing game this season.

Five games into his 2016 campaign, the tight end has 21 catches, 312 yards and two touchdowns on 36 targets. That’s pretty good production for a five-game stretch in which Eifert is trying to fully recover from his offseason injury, but with Green out of the lineup, it would be nice to see Dalton involve the former first-rounder to a greater extent.

Vontaze Burfict is one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.

It’s now been four consecutive weeks where the linebacker has played at a dominant level, but Burfict’s performance on Sunday was perhaps the most dominant game of his entire career, let alone season. With 15 tackles, four pass deflections, two interceptions and 54 interception return yards, it seemed as though the linebacker could do no wrong. The two-pick game was the first by a Bengals linebacker since Odell Thurman accomplished the feat in 2005 against the Packers. Burfict has now gone five straight games with double-digit tackles, also notching a sack, two run stuffs, two picks, a forced fumble and five pass deflections in that same timespan.

Zach Ertz will get an earful on Monday for making this business decision:

Carlos Dunlap’s dominance at the line of scrimmage has been the most unheralded story of the Bengals’ 2016 season.

With three pass deflections on Sunday, the defensive end now has 13 on the season. In his historically dominant 2012 season, then-NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt managed 16 deflected passes, a milestone Dunlap could definitely surpass over the next four games at his current trajectory. Think-pieces on Watt’s dominance in terms of swatting passes down at the line of scrimmage dominated media headlines four years ago, so it’s interesting how Dunlap’s current dominance has flown under the radar.

Darqueze Dennard quietly had one of the best games of his NFL career on Sunday.

It’s understandable that fans would’ve liked to see rookie first-rounder William Jackson get some action late in the 2016 season, but it’s also nice to see former first-round corner Darqueze Dennard finally appearing to make some strides in the right direction. That’s something we likely wouldn’t be seeing had Dennard been competing with both Jackson and Josh Shaw for snaps behind the Bengals’ starters. With four defensive tackles and a special teams tackle, the cornerback generated a 79.6 PFF grade, good for fourth on the Bengals’ defense on Sunday. The third-year corner appeared to be flying all over the field and has finally recovered from a string of injuries that have plaguing him.

Mike Nugent’s kicking woes continue, but the Bengals still managed to dominate all game.

Nugents’ poor kicking hasn’t been remotely close to one of the Bengals’ biggest issues, and Sunday’s action somewhat backed up that assertion. The kicker had one of his worst games of the 2016 season, missing two extra points, yet Cincinnati completely dominated. The Bengals won on Sunday because the offense sustained drives and because the defense forced turnovers, not because Nugent made or missed a kick or two. Sure, kicks can impact a game. But in a season where kicking has been at its worst throughout the league, claiming the Bengals could be a .500 team or better if they had a different kicker seems a bit extreme.

Many Bengals fans would’ve liked to see the team lose to the Eagles.

I’ll take a Bengals win any day of the week, even if it lowers the team’s position in the 2017 NFL Draft. To me, the Bengals aren’t a team that relies on rookie contributors early, so ensuring the players on the current roster are able to develop chemistry and don’t get disheartened in an essentially meaningless season is far more important than having a pick five slots higher in April. And with several anticipated compensatory picks to work with, it’s not like the Bengals can’t trade up if they see a guy they like. But, it’s not like I’m right and those who disagree with me are wrong. It’s just fairly surprising to see such a large number of fans hoping Cincinnati loses its games.

All in all, the Bengals won — and the feeling after a victory is a good feeling to have.

Players seemed incredibly relieved to finally get that win in after going the entire month of November without a single victory. Players were celebrating from post-game to late into the night (also because Domata Peko was celebrating his birthday on Sunday evening). An unnamed player even told’s Geoff Hobson the three consecutive losses were “bad,” but that it really “seemed like seven.” With that elusive win out of the way, the Bengals will look to build on the win and finish the season strong, perhaps even playing spoiler to a few opponents remaining on their schedule.

“Today was fun,” Dre Kirkpatrick said after the game. “It was fun to get the win, but we still left a lot of things out there that we’ve got to correct as a unit. Everybody can be happy for about 24 hours, but next week, we need to be ready to go.”