The times, they are a-changin. Isn’t amazing what a little winning will do? Suddenly, the Cincinnati Bengals have gone from a team in total disarray to one that may have become the early favorite to win the AFC North Division title.
This was just one of the may topics discussed in this week’s version of The Flying Pigskin podcast, which is hosted by Tanya O’Rourke and features panelists Scott Kyser and Keenan Singleton, along with guest Mo Egger, the host of Sports Talk on 1530 AM.. I will be a weekly feature on the program, as well.
This week’s show also featured a very special guest in Solomon Wilcots, the former radio and TV personality who starred for the Bengals as a cornerback/safety from 1987-1990 and who finished No. 40 in the Bengals First 50.
Cincinnati’s win over Buffalo, coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss to Jacksonville, suddenly thrust the Bengals right back into the AFC North conversation. It’s still way too early to talk about playoffs, but at least that possibility is back in the conversation.
And the Bengals won Sunday in spite of themselves. Overcome three turnovers, all of which its best player, A.J. Greenhad a hand in, is something good teams have to do, and it is something Cincinnati was able to do against the Bills.
Green had probably his worst day as a pro as he dropped two passes, both of which ended up as Buffalo interceptions. He also had his first fumble since 2015, and it came in the red zone as the Bengals were trying to salt the game away.
But, at the same time, Green had his best day since September 27, 2015, when he had 227 yards receiving against Baltimore. Green finished with seven receptions for 189 yards against a Bills’ defense that had gained a reputation for not giving up the big plays.
Yet, it was the Cincinnati defense, and specifically its star linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, that was the real star of the day. The Bengals sacked Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Tyler six times, including three times in the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati held the Bills, who, despite some injuries to its receiving corps, still featured the always-dangerous LeSean McCoy, to 221 yards in total offense. In addition to Burfict, who had 13 total tackles and a sack, along with three tackles for loss, the Bengals also got a standout performance from Michael Johnson, whose move to the middle seems to have resuscitated his career. Johnson contributed a sack and played probably his best game since his return from Tampa Bay.
And, unlike last week, this was a win against a quality opponent. Buffalo came in to the game in sole possession of first place in the AFC East and looked like a team on the upswing.
Cincinnati now heads into its bye week hoping to get healthy. Rookie receiver John Ross appears ready to be back in action when the Bengals head to Pittsburgh, and the extra time will allow cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones, who suffered injuries Sunday, time to heal. If the Bengals can go to Heinz Field and win, it may just set them up as the favorites to win the division.
The Bengals’ chances continue to rest on the arm, and the decision-making abilities, of its quarterback, Andy Dalton. Dalton once again showed his toughness when he insisted on continuing despite an ankle injury he sustained Sunday, and it is his guts and grits that make the leader under fire that Cincinnati needs.
Fortunately for Dalton, the offensive line, anchored by a rotation that has thrived with Andre Smith moving between left and right tackle, is beginning to play with more confidence, especially when it comes to protecting the passer. Dalton was only sacked one time Sunday and actually had enough time in the pocket to find Green deep on a couple of occasions.
The running game, however, continues to struggle as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor looks for the right combination. But, once they finally do get the running game going, the sky may be the limit for this offense.
Solomon Wilcots took the opportunity to critique the Bengals’ progress so far, and to offer some optimism as the rest of the season begins to unfold. He praised the play of Green, noting that “even the great players have off moments.” And he noted that the fact that the Bengals were able to hold on against a spirited Bills team “speaks to their character. I hope they keep building.”
Wilcots praised the play of the Bengals’ young linebacking corps – “we were fired up about them at training camp,” and pointed to Nick Vigil and Carl Lawson as just a sampling of the playmakers that Cincinnati features at every level of its defense.
So, after five games and with a record of 2-3, the arrow is definitely pointing up. The Bengals are moving in the right direction as they head into Pittsburgh, a place where anything can happen. The game will probably prove to be the tipping point for both teams, with the winner in good position to challenge for the division title and the loser left to wonder what went wrong.
Which injured Bengal would you most like to see back from injury in time for the Steelers’ game? Is Andy Dalton the best quarterback in the AFC North? If the Bengals beat Pittsburgh, are the in the driver’s seat in the AFC North? Is Mo Eggers a bad fan for staying home and watching the game on TV rather than venturing out into the rain? Check out the Flying Pigskin on twitter and let us know your thoughts
Be sure to tune in to The Flying Pigskin podcast this week, and every week thereafter. The show airs live every Monday afternoon.
Who Dey! Who Day All Day!