In what could be described as pretty much a must-win game in week 2, the Bengals responded with a gritty and gutty 15-10 decision over the division rival Ravens at PBS. The victory marked their 8th consecutive division win, and the 6th of their last 8 versus the Ravens.
Despite all the glitz and glamour of T.O. and Chad Ochocinco, the game looked a lot more like the kind of win the team was able to put together last year than the kind we’ve been expecting for this year. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of offense and Carson Palmer was less than sharp. Cedric Benson scratched and clawed his way to relatively quiet 78 yards, and the entire offense mustered a paltry 253 total yards. They also looked confused and disorganized at times during the early going, and continued to put themselves into long yardage situations thanks to boneheaded penalties, predictable play-calling, and poor execution.
Thankfully, the Bengal defense also looked much more like the 09 version than they did last week. Mike Zimmer’s charges were tough and aggressive, and flustered Ravens QB Joe Flacco all day. Flacco was picked off 4 times, a career high. He seemed confused, jittery and impatient in the pocket, throwing off target numerous times, completely missing wide open receivers, and throwing it away despite having time. With Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Anquan Boldin on the outside, Todd Heap at tight end, and Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain at running back, Flacco had plenty of offensive firepower at his disposal, but the striped defense was up to the task, with a great mix of blitz packages and zone coverage schemes that kept Flacco guessing and guessing wrong.
The interceptions gave the Bengals field position and led to 6 of their 15 total points. The last of the four sealed the win. Picks were collected by Adam Jones (his first as a Bengal), Leon Hall, Brandon Johnson, and Chinedum Ndukwe.
Besides such an outstanding effort from the Bengal defense, the team had to also be pleased with the work of new kicker Mike Nugent. Nugent tied a franchise record with five field goals (going 5-for-5) from 36, 30, 46, 38, and 25 yards. Despite lining up in some very high pressure situations and from the hashes, Nugent looked strong and confident in his scores, and had several touchbacks on his kick-offs (basically he was the anti-Shayne Graham). When asked about Nugent after the game, head coach Marvin Lewis said, “That’s why he’s here. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Special teams also contributed to the big victory thanks to a nice 60-yard kick-off return by Bernard Scott that led to a field goal.
The Bengal offense should be commended for having no turnovers in the game, and for generating scores on all of their red zone opportunities (five), even if they were only field goals. They were facing a still scary Ravens defense after all, but they need lots of work if they are going to contend for the playoffs. There were some very bad run plays, Palmer made some bad decisions with the ball (lucky not to suffer interceptions himself), and both Chad and T.O. had drops. Nonetheless, young players like Bernard Scott, Jermaine Gresham, and Jordan Shipley continue to mature and provide big plays.
Luckily, based on paper at least, the Bengals should get an opportunity to get better on offense against some lesser defenses. The Bengals prepare to travel to Carolina next Sunday to face an 0-2 Panthers team that is struggling mightily on offense. After that, they’ll visit the currently 0-2 Browns.
Baltimore will host Cleveland next week. Both the Ravens and the Bengals are looking up at the Roethlisberger-less Steelers, who have scratched out two wins in two weeks.
• TJ Houshmandzadeh played his first game against his former mates, but registered no catches.
• Chad Ochocinco caught his 700th career pass
• Marvin Lewis is now 9-3 all-time versus Baltimore
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