But the greater question, the more pressing question is…how does a team play so modestly for over a month, and then come out and play as well as they did on Sunday. Welcome back on board the Bengals’ bandwagon.
CINCINNATI—Where has this been?
That’s the most relevant question after the Bengals performance Sunday against Philadelphia, a thoroughly convincing 32-14 victory during which virtually everything went right.
They hadn’t won a game since late October when they beat Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium. Since then, they played hangdog football: four losses and a tie.
But Sunday, what a difference—what a huge difference.
They weren’t running around with their tails between their legs. They had some fire. They played like they were playing for something beyond the paycheck.
They scored the first six times they had the ball. They defense pitched a shutout until late in the third quarter when the Bengals held a 29-0 advantage.
Andy Dalton was out there making like Brett Favre or Johnny Unitas—name your favorite big time quarterback. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns. His average gain on each completion was over 10 yards.
The line—the same guys who’ve left him as undressed as Lady Gaga on her Dive Bar Tour—gave him time and space.
Dalton was not sacked all day.
He looked smart, quick—decisive. He completed passes to nine different receivers, not one of them named A.J. Green, still mending a strained hamstring.
The top shot among an array of impressive passes, was a perfect 50-yarder to rookie Cody Core. Dalton also connected on passes of 44, 29, 23 and 21 yards.
He threw touchdown passes to Tyler Eifert (13 yards) and Brandon LaFell (eight yards).
LaFell was good for 95 yards, Tyler Boyd (66), Core (58), Rex Burkhead (28), Eifert (25) James Wright (20), Alex Erickson (16), Jeremy Hill (12) and tackle Jake Fisher (12).
“I felt like I had a good rhythm today and some guys made some nice catches,” Dalton said. “We were able to spread it around. That was a big part of it. That’s what we needed to do…I just felt like I saw things well. There wasn’t a lot of confusion.”
“We gave him time and space, and he operated,” said veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth, who left the game late after a shot to the knee. “When we give him the opportunity to find people, he always plays well.”
“The quarterback had another very good day,” coach Marvin Lewis said, “and he had some help, all around.”
Much of that came from an inspired defensive unit led by middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was all over the place. He had 15 tackles and two of the Bengals three interceptions. He also had three pass deflections.
“He continues to do a good job,” Lewis said. “I don’t know that I have ever been around another linebacker who had two interceptions in one game.”
Carlos Dunlap wasn’t far behind Burfict. He had four pass deflections, a sack and, along with Gino Atkins, had a hand on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz all day.
It was the third straight week the Bengals defense held an opponent under 20 points. (They’ve allowed 49 points the last three games.)
“Our defense did an awfully good job of getting the ball back to our offense,” Lewis said.
This week, they capitalized and Lewis is counting on that same kind of play in the last four games of the season, three of those against divisional opponents: Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
“We’ve got a chance to go 4-2 in the division,” Lewis said, “and that starts next week against Cleveland.”
Given the mediocrity of the division, it’s not a prohibitive bet that the Bengals could back in to the playoffs.
But the greater question, the more pressing question is how does a team play so modestly for over a month, and then come out and play as well as they did on Sunday.
Neither Lewis nor his players offered much insight on that topic. The coach did say: “They worked their tails off all week. They continued to work and they never stopped believing.”
Eifert, sounding a bit like the Righteous Brothers, said: “We kinda lost that feeling of what it was like to win.”
Other than that, they offered few clues.
“All in all,” Lewis said, “everybody was relaxed, relaxed and doing their job. That’s important.”
Still, does that alone explain such a turnaround?
Obviously, all things are not right in Philly. After winning their first three games, they have gone into a swoon of their own. They stand 5-7 after Sunday’s loss and are excluded from the NFC East playoff picture.
The fact remains—regardless of how good the Bengals looked Sunday afternoon—they have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
It’s fairly possible, the Bengals looked so good because the Eagles are just not that good. In fact, the Eagles displayed some of the qualities that have put a drag on the Bengals so often this season.
Philly had only 53 yards rushing and were penalized 10 times for 88 yards, more than a couple a clear result of frustration.
The fact also remains that one never knows—from week-to-week—how this team will play. That’s the maddening thing about them. But on this day, at least, they could feel good about themselves.
“The feeling around here hasn’t been a lot of fun,” Dalton said. “We had lost three in a row. We need to get that one game to get us going, to get us back on the right track.”
Well, they got it. But they are left with an awfully short track.