Throughout much of the Bengals’ history, key free agent signings haven’t been a huge part of the equation. Notable signings like Cedric Benson, Deltha O’Neal, and Adam Jones that actually worked out tend to be overshadowed by free agency busts like Antonio Bryant, Antwan Odom, Jason Allen, Laveranues Coles, Sam Adams, Neil O’Donnell, and Gus Frerotte. So when the Bengals signed a pair of notable starting caliber free agents this year - Karlos Dansby and Brandon LaFell - many hoped for the best while wondering what the new additions to the team would bring to the table. Dansby is the oldest linebacker in the league while LaFell had a down year in 2015 due to injury.
In the wake of losses to key players like Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Emmanuel Lamur, Bengals fans were hoping that LaFell and Dansby could stop the bleeding. Both players were quiet in the preseason, partially due to LaFell’s hand injury that kept him out through the first two weeks of exhibition play. But, in the Bengals’ Week 1 trip to New York, both players showed Bengals fans why the team brought them in this offseason.
Dansby, in particular, led the entire team with 11 tackles. He was constantly a thorn in the Jets’ side when he was on the field (which was for 100 percent of defensive snaps). At one point late in the second quarter, he made a key tackle for a one yard loss that set the Jets up for a longer third down than they were hoping for.
Instead of finishing off the five-minute long drive for a touchdown, the Jets had to settle for a field goal. It allowed the Bengals to stay within a touchdown of the Jets late in the first half. With the ensuing drive ended in a field goal, they went into the half down by only three points. In the second half, Dansby didn’t bring the ball carrier down as much, recording only four tackles, but every tackle he made stopped the ball carrier from moving the chains and extending the drive.
On the other hand, LaFell’s contributions were much less noticeable than Dansby’s. But, that has more to do with the fact that A.J. Green looked absolutely inhuman on Sunday. Green’s performance opened up opportunities for him, but it’s pretty hard to compete with 180 yards and a touchdown.
Lost in Green’s big day was the fact that LaFell came close to joining Green with 100+ yards on the day. He caught all four of the passes thrown his way and recorded 91 yards in the process. He didn’t touch the ball a whole lot on Sunday, but, every time he did, something spectacular happened, like this impressive 21 yard catch that directly preceded Green’s 54 yard catch for a touchdown.
Green’s touchdown gave the Bengals their first lead of the game. LaFell recorded another pair of catches later in the first half, but it was this jaw-dropping 49 yard catch late in the third quarter that showed just how useful a strong receiver like LaFell can be for the Bengals’ offense.
The Bengals entered the second half down by a field goal and the offense completely stalled on the first drive. Luckily, the Bengals’ defense forced a pair of punts from the Jets. But, the Bengals needed a spark to get the offense going. LaFell’s 49 yard catch gave them that spark, setting them up at the Jets’ 22. Barring a turnover, the catch should have been at least good enough to set up a game-tying field goal for Mike Nugent. Jeremy Hill had other ideas, bowling his way to an awesome 12-yard touchdown run. But, it wouldn’t have been possible without LaFell’s big catch.
With any luck, LaFell and Dansby will continue to produce at the levels that they proved themselves capable of on Sunday. Losing key contributors on offense and defense certainly wasn’t an ideal situation for the Bengals this offseason but, the team appears to be in good hands with their new players.