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Bengals vs. Titans: Cincinnati dominates with 33-7 win over Tennessee

The Cincinnati Bengals are 3-0 after a convincing win over the Tennessee Titans. The Bengals, needing to get healthy, head into their bye week next week and are then off to New England in week five.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

For only the seventh time in franchise history, the Cincinnati Bengals have opened the regular season at 3-0. In four of those six seasons, Cincinnati qualified for the playoffs ('75, '88, '90, '05) -- and in one of those years ('06), they underwent a memorable collapse by losing the final three games, when with one win they would have qualified for the postseason. The '69 squad won three straight, but then lost nine of their next 11.

This also marks the 11th consecutive regular season win at Paul Brown Stadium, dating back to Cincinnati's regular season finale in 2012. The Bengals went 8-0 at home last season and scored wins against the Atlanta Falcons and now the Tennessee Titans to start the 2014 season. It's the longest streak in franchise history, breaking a 10-game string with the '88 (all home games) and '89 (first two home games) squad. However, if you include postseason games, then that team won 12 straight at home.

It was nearly the first time Cincinnati shut out the opposing offense in six years, when the Bengals defeated the Cleveland Browns 14-0 on Dec. 21, 2008. What could have been even more impressive was that it was nearly Cincinnati's first shutout in Cincinnati since 1980 - a 14-0 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, 30 yards of penalties by Dre Kirkpatrick, gave Tennessee the assist to eventually score their first points -- a one-yard Shonn Greene touchdown run.

We'll talk more about how the Bengals won, but let's quickly review the oddity of Cincinnati's afternoon.

  • Andy Dalton is the first quarterback in franchise history to record a touchdown on a reception -- a lob from Mohamed Sanu that should have been picked off by the Titans. He wasn't sacked for a third-straight game and completed 15 passes for 169 yards but no touchdowns.
  • The Bengals took a 19-0 first half lead without converting a single third down. It took until the 8:38 mark in the third quarter, during Mohamed Sanu's sideline sprint, for Cincinnati to convert their first third down of the afternoon. They would convert two more on the same drive, concluded by Giovani Bernard's second rushing touchdown (and 26-0 lead).
  • Cincinnati's special teams unit scored a safety on a penalty after a Titans player held Margus Hunt. We always said that Hunt would have a significant impact on special teams.
  • Robert Geathers intercepted a Jack Locker pass that led to a Giovani Bernard touchdown and a 19-0 lead.
  • A.J. Green caused two defensive pass interferences during a 102-yard performance on six receptions after spending a week wondering if he'd even play. It's his 17th career 100-yard performance.
  • Mohamed Sanu has completed all four of his regular season attempts for 166 yards passing and two touchdowns.
  • Carlos Dunlap posted a quarterback sack, giving him at least one sack in every game this season.
  • Leon Hall was given a breather in the third quarter and replaced by first-round rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard. With a minute remaining in the quarter, Dennard bounced around the edge on a blitz and recorded his first career quarterback sack.
  • Jeremy Hill's touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving Cincinnati a 32-0 lead, was all effort. Hill averaged 5.6 yards per rush. Giovani Bernard and Hill combined for three touchdowns and 86 yards rushing.

During Tennessee's game-opening play from their own 20-yard line, Shonn Greene slid on the slick Paul Brown Stadium turf at the line of scrimmage. Greene added another two yards, bringing up third and eight from the Titans 22-yard line. Jake Locker took the shotgun snap with Adam Jones blitzing of the edge. Locker avoided a few tackles, and scrambled for 29 yards before he was finally dropped by Carlos Dunlap on Cincinnati's 49-yard line.

Same story. Green picked up five-yards on first down to the 44-yard line with over 12 minutes remaining, and Kendall Wright added another yard on second. Locker found Delanie Walker over the middle, who shed off attempted tackles by George Iloka and Reggie Nelson before he was dropped at the Bengals 20-yard line.

For the third time during Tennessee's opening possession, the Titans had third down. However, for the first time on this possession, the Bengals held -- specifically Leon Hall broke through Tennessee's screen to drop Wright for a limited two-yard gain.

Hall seemed like a monstrous tackler on Sunday. Ryan Succop pushed the 40-yard attempt wide right and the fans rejoiced.

Cincinnati's opening possession started from their own 21-yard line with 8:51 remaining and a six-man jumbo formation... adding Marshall Newhouse. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called a pass; only because that's what Hue does. Makes you think one way, then does the other. So far, it's worked.

Throughout the week, we were left wondering if A.J. Green would contribute in Sunday's game, after Green left the game against Atlanta with a toe/foot injury. Dalton found his superstar receiver on Cincinnati's first play of the game, when Green made an athletic grab for 15 yards. Giovani Bernard picked up another 12 yards on two runs, setting up at the Titans 43-yard line.

The Bengals kept marching, adding another 11-yard reception to Green, reaching the Titans 32-yard line. A defensive pass interference pushed Cincinnati into the red zone -- but this is where they've come across their biggest issues this year. A two-yard run and five-yard reception by Jermaine Gresham led to a third-and-three from the Titans 11-yard line with 4:56 remaining in the first. Dalton underthrew Mohamed Sanu and Mike Nugent converted a 29-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead.

At this stage in the game, Green posted 26 yards on two receptions, while also landing on the winning side of a defensive pass interference. In truth, if A.J. Green gets hurt, our primary reaction will take on a "yea, right" perspective. Dealing with strained ligaments during practice leading into Cincinnati's week two game against Atlanta, Green offered a handful of snaps but then left the game. After sitting during Wednesday's practice, Green worked Thursday and Friday and was listed as probable.

He wasn't a decoy against the Titans, either. Green added two more receptions during Cincinnati's second possession of 13 and 29 yards, forcefully taking chunks of yards. With four receptions and 68 yards receiving in the first quarter, A.J. Green was declared "healthy".

And then this happened...

The Bengals had first down at the Titans 18-yard line with six seconds remaining in the first. Andy Dalton, out of shotgun, pitched to Mohamed Sanu (in the backfield) while Dalton snuck around the left edge. Sanu, following his blocks, suddenly stopped, secured a passer's grip on the football, and ah, hell, Sanu tossed the football back to Dalton while narrowly missing the Titans defender (it should have been picked off). Dalton fought through the congestion for the reception and dove into the front left pylon.

After a quick review, it was confirmed. Touchdown. And the Bengals took a 10-0 lead as the first quarter concluded. Dalton's reception marks the fourth quarterback in franchise history with at least one catch, following names like Sam Wyche, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Akili Smith. However, Dalton's touchdown marked the first time that a quarterback scored on a reception in franchise history.

What the hell, let's have Darrin Simmons' special teams unit score a safety.

A monstrous 51-yard Kevin Huber punt literally died at the five-yard line with 8:43 remaining in the second quarter. Tremendous backspin allowed just enough time for Cedric Peerman to down the football at the two.

Thanks to a nasty Cincinnati Bengals defense, Tennessee's offense couldn't break free from their own end-zone. Shonn Greene was tripped up by Margus Hunt and Terence Newman for a one-yard gain, then stretched out a run off the left edge on second down, but was dropped for a no-gain by Leon Hall. Jake Locker scrambled on third down, pulled down from behind by Carlos Dunlap for a one-yard gain leaving a fourth and eight from the Titans four-yard line. Brett Kern punted the football 43 yards to the Titans 47-yard line.

However a flag was dropped and a holding penalty called in the end zone. By rule, this is a safety, expanding Cincinnati's lead 12-0.

Robert Geathers... it's your turn to do the unthinkable.

With 3:49 remaining in the first half, leading 12-0, Titans quarterback Jake Locker takes the shotgun snap on third and nine from the Titans seven-yard line. The football, intended for tight end Delanie Walker, ricocheted toward Robert Geathers, who was in underneath-coverage.

Juggling the football in an "ohmygod, football!" moment, Geathers hauls in the football and returns it to the 17-yard line.

After a defensive pass interference on a rainbow pass to A.J. Green into the endzone, the second that Green had caused in the game, Giovani Bernard followed Domata Peko into the endzone to take a 19-0 lead.

After winning the coin toss and electing to defer to the second half, the Bengals would have had the football to open the third quarter. And with :50 seconds remaining in the first half and a 19-0 lead, from their own 20-yard line, the Bengals call a screen to Giovani Bernard... the poor screen pass was deflected and intercepted by the Titans. Thankfully Locker, under intense pressure, breaks down and lobs the football to Reggie Nelson, who secures Cincinnati's first half shutout.

The Tennessee Titans were gashing Cincinnati's defense early in the third quarter. After gaining 48 yards to the Bengals 37-yard line with 10:05 remaining in the third, defensive end Carlos Dunlap wrapped Locker for a quarterback sack and a five-yard loss. The play effectively forced the Titans to punt, rather than attempting a long-distance field goal... once against preserving the shutout.

When Cincinnati took possession with 9:16 remaining in the third quarter, the Bengals wiped more than seven minutes off the clock. Not only was Cincinnati's possession a convincing beat-down on the Titans defense, the Bengals also converted three third down opportunities. With 2:03 remaining in the third quarter, Giovani Bernard powered his way into the end zone to give Cincinnati a 26-0 lead.

Cincinnati pulled Leon Hall midway into the third quarter to give the veteran some rest and allow first-round rookie Darqueze Dennard some valuable playing time. With 1:40 remaining in the third, Dennard, playing from the slot, blitzed. Wrapping around the edge, Dennard posted his first quarterback sack of his NFL career.

Cincinnati has second and six from the Titans 28-yard line. Andy Dalton flipped the football to A.J. Green, who ran a quick slant. Green picked up 24 yards on the play, reaching the Titans four-yard line. After an incomplete wide receiver screen to Mohamed Sanu, running back Jeremy Hill powered four yards with amazing effort to reach into the endzone, giving Cincinnati a 33-0 lead with 9:26 remaining in the game.

When the Cincinnati Bengals released their inactive list, it featured six players dealing with respective injuries, including linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Sean Porter, joined by wide receiver Marvin Jones, running back Rex Burkhead, guard Kevin Zeitler and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. The one healthy player is cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, who recently returned to the team after serving a two-game suspension.