History does repeat itself.
Thirty-four years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals knocked off the visiting Detroit Lions to deny the Lions a playoff berth. Sunday, the Bengals did it again. Their 26-17 win cost Detroit a playoff berth and helped salvage some measure of respect from an otherwise lost season.
There were plenty of good performances Sunday, including late sacks from Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson. But here are four things that I think I know about this Bengals team after one of its better performances of the year.
Vontaze Burfict won’t stop trying his hardest
Vontaze Burfict had not played for the past two weeks since going into the concussion protocol after the illegal—and dirty—hit by JuJu Smith-Schuster in the game against Pittsburgh.
He established himself immediately on Sunday in his return. Burfict made the tackle on the Lions’ very first play of the game. Later, after an ugly Dalton interception, Burfict tackled Detroit running back Theo Riddick inches short of a first down, and forced a punt.
Later in the second quarter, with the Lions threatening, Burfict hit Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford just as he was throwing the ball, which resulted in an interception by Vincent Rey. Unfortunately, Burfict hurt his shoulder on the play and would not return.
With Burfict out, Detroit drove right down the field on its first possession of the second half for a field goal that extended its lead to 10-6. The Bengals’ defense allowed the Lions to drive down for an easy touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but stiffened after that.
When Burfict is healthy, he gives the game his all and then some. That was the case before he left injured again on Sunday. He was later seen with a sling on his shoulder on the sidelines.
Joe Mixon returned with force, until he got hurt again, too
Like Burfict, Joe Mixon missed the last two games with a concussion. And, like Burfict, he also made an immediate impact until he also left the game injured again. Mixon gained all of Cincinnati’s yardage on the Bengals’ first two possessions, including a pair of first downs.
Mixon had 32 total yards on five touches for the Bengals (12 rushing and 20 passing) before he went into the locker room with a gimpy ankle and did not return.
Giovani Bernard is excellent when given a chance
Giovani Bernard continues to look like one of the better all-purpose running backs in the league. Bernard rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries in the first half, and caught five passes for another 36 yards.
Bernard ended up with 116 yards on 23 carries, an average of five yards per carry, en route to the third 100-yard performance of his career. He also contributed seven receptions for 52 yards. And, to top things off, his 12-yard touchdown run with just under two minutes to play was the dagger that ended Detroit’s playoff hopes.
He did all that with a makeshift offensive line bookended by Clint Boling on the left and Eric Winston on the right.
Where has this team been? That, I don’t know.
Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond finally got their chances to play, and both made the most of those opportunities. In fact, the pair played so well rotating at left guard that the Bengals ran for 87 yards on 16 carries in the first half, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Cincinnati out-rushed its season average in the first half alone. Westerman played the first and third quarters, and Redmond played the second and fourth.
Dalton was sacked twice in the first half. The first sack came at the hands of Ziggy Ansah, who beat Clint Boling, who had moved to left tackle for the game. Ansah got credit for the second sack, as well, but that one was on Dalton, who opted to take the sack rather than throw the ball away. Dalton got sacked again in the second half, and again it was Ansah who got to him. That sack came against Boling, as well.
As a team, Cincinnati combined for 142 yards rushing on 34 carries for an average of 4.2 yards per carry. That effort was second only to the 152-yard rushing day against Cleveland in Week 13.
The young guys played well, so the question now is, why didn’t they get this opportunity earlier in the season? At any rate, it looks like the Bengals may at least have found some of the answers to the offensive line questions that have plagued them all year.
Too bad it took this long.