We all love a win, but this one figuratively hurts. More on that in a minute.
Cincinnati's 24-10 win over Atlanta marks the third-time (2005, 2006) that the Bengals have started the season 2-0 during the Marvin Lewis era. It also marks the emergence from an offense with field goal reliance, a significant breakout from Cincinnati's duel running back combination and, more importantly, a reminder that Cincinnati is defense-first.
So we'd like to give our hypothetical game-ball to Cincinnati's defense. Last week against the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons generated 568 yards -- with 448 in the air and 123 on the ground. Against Cincinnati's aggressive defense, the Falcons offense only generated 309 yards, turned it over three times and converted only 25 percent of their third down opportunities. Further, can you remember the Bengals doing a better job tackling?
That doesn't mean Cincinnati's offense should be ignored. Dalton's group posted nearly 500 yards this week, thanks to Cincinnati's running backs and a 76-yard touchdown to Mohamed Sanu. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 42 rushes for 164 yards rushing. Bernard added 79 yards receiving, giving him 169 yards of total offense. Sanu led all Bengals players with 84 yards receiving on three receptions, scoring Cincinnati's lone touchdown through the air.
Dalton was amazingly efficient, completing 65 percent of his passes for 252 yards receiving and with a passer rating of 116.6.
Sunday's win also marked Cincinnati's 10th consecutive win during the regular season, tying a franchise mark.
Good win. Great win. But it hurt.
Vontaze Burfict left the game multiple times on Sunday with, what appeared to be, shots to the head (most of it unintentional). He was finally ruled out early in the fourth with a stinger and concussion. Kevin Zeitler suffered a calf injury during Giovani Bernard's first touchdown run. Brandon Thompson (knee) and Alex Smith (bicep) left with injuries. Andrew Whitworth suffered a lower leg contusion in the fourth quarter. He returned... with a noticeable limp.
And of course, Wide receiver A.J. Green left during Cincinnati's game-opening possession with a toe injury. It will be the first time that Green left a game without posting a reception, even if the reason for his departure was injury-based.
GREAT, FG-FEST RESUMES...
The Bengals were determined to run the football early. Following a quick Atlanta Falcons possession, which picked up a first down but expired with a punt, the Bengals had their opening possession at their own 18-yard line.
On their first two plays, Giovani Bernard gained 19 yards on the ground, picking up a first down on the first and falling a yard shy of another on the second. Despite a two-yard loss on the third consecutive run, Cincinnati gained a first down on Kory Biermann's neutral zone infraction. Andy Dalton dropped back with his first pass with 9:35 remaining in the game, dumping off the football to running back Jeremy Hill, who dodged two tacklers for an 18-yard gain.
Cincinnati kept the pressure on the ground, reaching Atlanta's 13-yard line with second-and-six. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton overthrew to Mohamed Sanu and Dane Sanzenbacher on second and third downs respectively, leading to a Mike Nugent 31-yard field goal. Here we go again, right? The possession went nearly six minutes and generated 64 yards on 13 plays.
The Atlanta Falcons bounced back on the following possession, with a little help from an Adam Jones defensive hold on third down (on Atlanta's 40-yard line with 3:57 remaining in the first quarter). Matt Bryant converted the 45-yard field goal to tie the game at three.
...UNTIL MIKE NUGENT CAME UP WITH A CASE OF THE MISSES
With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert out, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson opened Cincinnati's second possession with an end-around to Mohamed Sanu. Well, that's what everyone had thought, that tricky Hue Jackson. Sanu gripped the football and famously chucked it down the right sidelines. A beautiful arch descends perfectly into Brandon Tate's arms, who magically kept his feet in-bounds for the 50-yard reception.
However the Bengals have to settle for another field goal after two minimal gains on runs by Bernard and then an overthrow by Andy Dalton. Nugent pushed the field goal attempt wide right and Cincinnati left with nothing.
With 11:22 remaining in the second, Dalton, while staring down a cornerback blitz, throws the shovel pass to Giovani Bernard, who turns the corner and leaps over a defender to gain 24 yards on the play. Unfortunately, Mohamed Sanu danced around on the ensuing reception, losing the four yards that he had gained before being tackled at the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati only generated another four yards before Mike Nugent's missed 49-yard field goal.
After converting a possession-opening field goal to take a 3-0 lead, Nugent missed three consecutive field goals in the first half.
GIOVANI BERNARD DOMINATES
The hope is that Mike Nugent isn't needed -- at least until he makes whatever corrections are needed to make field goals again. Under an intense pass rush, Dalton, from the Bengals 21-yard line with 6:24 remaining in the second quarter, flipped it to Giovani Bernard. Bernard did his thing and stretched down the right sidelines, where he tip-toed for 46 yards. Whoa. Can I order one GIF please with awesome on the side?
Jeremy Hill, giving Bernard a breather, gains 13 and nine yards on the ground, reaching the Falcons eight-yard line. After a one-yard loss by Bernard, the Bengals converted the third and two with a redemptive run by Bernard, who found breathing room off the right edge.
The Bengals took a 10-3 lead with 2:11 remaining in the second when Bernard reached into the endzone. Finally. A red zone touchdown. At this stage of the game, Bernard has 129 yards of total offense on 17 touches.
NUGENT MISSED A 55-YARDER BEFORE HALF-TIME
A dominating Bengals defense forced Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons to punt for the fourth time in the first half, thanks to great coverage, the lack of yards after the catch and intense pressure on Atlanta's quarterback. Adam Jones returns the ensuing punt 24 yards to the Bengals 43-yard line with :51 seconds remaining. After losing a yard on a Giovani Bernard run, Atlanta uses their first time out of the half... probably hoping that Devin Hester would have an opportunity for a return.
Instead Andy Dalton found Dane Sanzenbacher, running a crossing route, on a 26-yard gain. Sanzenbacher fell out of bounds at the Falcons 32-yard line with 37 seconds remaining. However an offensive hold on Sanzenbacher, a four-yard run by Bernard and a dropped pass led to a two-yard gain by Jermaine Gresham. Cincinnati used their final timeout as soon as possible, leaving one second on the clock.
Mike Nugent missed his third field goal try the first half on the 55-yard attempt (we can't blame him too much for that, can we?), with Cincinnati taking a 10-3 lead into the lockerroom.
BENGALS TAKE A QUICK 24-3 LEAD
After both teams exchanged three-and-out possessions to open the third quarter, you had to momentarily worry that Cincinnati's momentum would shift towards Atlanta. It happened last week and those type of thoughts enter the mind of older Bengals fans who have seen it all.
With 11:09 remaining in the third quarter with six yards needed on third down, Andy Dalton takes the shotgun snap. Under an intense pass rush that invited six rushers (at least), Dalton flips the football to Mohamed Sanu. The wide receiver ran a quick slant, hauling in the football and separated from a diving defender, sprinting 76 yards for the touchdown.
Bengals take the 17-3 lead.
Let's keep the momentum going, the Bengals said.
On Atlanta's first play on their ensuing possession, Matt Ryan's pass was tipped and intercepted by Leon Hall on Atlanta's 43-yard line with 10:52 remaining in the third. Cincinnati went 43 yards on eight plays, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill. You should know that Atlanta didn't have a shot on the touchdown, with Andre Smith at left guard, Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Domata Peko leading blocking to the left.
Bengals lead 24-3 with 6:28 remaining in the third.
We called it a day by this point.