They say all good things must come to an end. Thankfully, bad ones do too.
The Bengals’ epic 10-game losing streak started back on October 3rd in Cleveland, and it mercifully ended today versus the same Browns. The symmetrical end to one of the darkest days in club history was long overdue, but much-needed and appreciated by most of the Who-Dey faithful.
The game started in typical fashion, as the Cleveland offense, led by rookie Colt McCoy, found it easy to exploit the Bengals depleted secondary, and another costly penalty on the Cincy defense helped them along. Dhani Jones was flagged for a personal foul, setting up Cleveland at the Bengals 20-yard line. The Browns lined up in an odd formation on the next play, with trips on both sides of the field. The defense played screen pass, but McCoy found Robert Royal deep down the sideline instead. Royal beat Leon Hall and the Browns were suddenly up 7-0 less than 3 minutes into the game.
It looked like a typical Bengal affair, especially when the Bengals inexplicably chose to go for it on their first offensive possession on a fourth-and-10 from field goal range at the Cleveland 28. Carson Palmer’s pass was incomplete, and the Browns took over with the lead and the ball, and most of the 56, 342 in attendance had to be thinking, “I’ve seen this before.”
But what they didn’t know, was that the Bengals would dominate the next 2+ quarters, playing like the 2009 squad. The Bengals offensive line manhandled the Browns defensive front, allowing Cedric Benson to have the best day of his season. On the Bengals next offensive drive, he would knot the scoring at seven with an 18 yard scamper down the left side of the formation, going untouched into the endzone. After a Browns punt, the Bengals were able to drive to the Cleveland 7-yard line, but were forced to settle for Clint Stitser’s 29-yard field goal after TE Jermaine Gresham was called for offensive pass interference. Offensive Pass Interference, sound familiar Bengals fans? At any rate, the field goal put the men in stripes up at 10-7.
The Browns got the ball back and quickly marched down the field as the first quarter ticked away, with a first-and-10 just outside of field goal range at the Bengal 37-yard line at the 2 minute warning. But rookie DE Carlos Dunlap recorded his fourth sack on second-and-four, and that loss of eight was compounded by a false start on OT John St. Clair, forcing Cleveland to punt with just 10 seconds left. The Bengals happily downed the ball and headed into the locker room with a 10-7 advantage.
The Bengals then took the opening kick of the second half and matched down to the Cleveland 21-yard line before settling for another Stitser boot, this one from 39-yards out. The key play on the drive was a beautiful loft from Palmer to Andre Caldwell on a first-and-20 that picked up the first down, neutralizing what appeared to be a killer holding penalty on Kyle Cook.
The next Browns possession ended with another punt—a three-and-out that was caused in large part by a big 8-yard sack of McCoy by DT Pat Sims. WR Quan Cosby had his best punt return of the year, a 16-yarder that set up the Bengals in great field position at their own 47. At this point, the Bengal offensive line and Cedric Benson asserted themselves.
Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski called eight consecutive runs of Cedric Benson, and Benson responded with 37 yards. Benson ran aggressively downhill all game, plowing over defenders and fighting for yards all the way. The Bengal offensive line was also uncharacteristically aggressive, opening huge holes for the backs, which included Bernard Scott, who also picked up 40 yards for the game on 8 carriers (5.0 average). Perhaps most interesting when looking at the Bengals success running the football may be the fact that FB Chris Pressley, who was recently brought back to the team, saw his most extensive action. Pressley was clearly an upgrade over the tight ends the Bengals had been using as fullbacks in running formations all year.
The drive stalled however at the Browns 16-yard line, when Palmer’s 3rd-down shot to Jerome Simpson in the endzone fell incomplete. Stitser was money again, this time from 34-yards out, and the Bengals opened up a two-score lead, 16-7, with the third quarter closing.
The Browns, now desperate, quickly moved down field, but stalled on a 3rd-and-one from the Bengals five-yard line. Runningback Peyton Hillis, who massacred the Bengals in their week four tilt, was stuffed for no gain as rookie LB Rodderick Muckelroy, Dhani Jones, and Keith Rivers crashed the middle. Browns coach Eric Mangini settled fro a Phil Dawson 29-yard kick, and the score drew closer at 16-10 as the fourth quarter began.
The Bengals kept the pressure on, putting together another dandy drive that got all the way to the Browns’ 3-yard line. Again, however, the Bengals stalled out in the red zone, and again settled for a Stitser kick. The 20-yarder put the Bengals back up by 9 at 19-10, with a two-score advantage. The play of the drive was the a masterful misdirection screen pass from Palmer to Caldwell that was good for 53 yards. The Bengals lined up in a heavy run formation to the right, and Palmer faked the hand-off that way, then turned and found Caldwell on the left with blockers in front o him. The play was the best one the Bengals ran all year, and was certainly made possible by their ongoing success running Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, which made the Browns over-commit to the fake run.
Things continued to look good for Cincinnati as they forced a quick three-and-out from the Browns offense, and set up shop after another punt at their own 24. However, this drive would stall out before they could get into field goal range as Brian Leonard was stopped for a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-four from the Browns 41-yard line. The most interesting play of the drive was a 15-yard connection from Palmer to Jerome Simpson.
The Browns would take over after Kevin Huber’s first punt of the game at their own 12-yard line with just four minutes and six seconds left. Knowing the Browns would have to throw, the Bengals were content to play it safe, but McCoy was able to exploit the weak and inexperienced secondary, as he hit WR Brian Robiskie on a 46-yard touchdown that had Bengal Nation expecting another choke. The newly-signed Keiwan Ratliff, playing safety, went for the ball and whiffed, allowing Robiskie to catch it and trot down the sideline for the score. The extra point pulled it to 19 to 17 with just over two minutes to go.
Browns Kicker Phil Dawson executed a well played on-sides kick, but the sure-handed Quan Cosby was able to recover it for the Bengals. All Cincinnati needed was one first down to ice the game, and they were able to get it on three Benson runs, the last a powerful four-yard gallop on third-and-3 in which he carried three Browns players across the first-down marker.
After a review of the play confirmed the first down, the Bengals ran out the clock for their third win.
- Is Terrell Owens a bad Omen? Without T.O. (left in the first quarter with a knee injury) the Bengals looked much better on offense
- Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell started the game at WR. T.O. and Chad did not start, and the Bengals gave the majority of the offensive snaps to Simpson, Caldwell, and Jordan Shipley. Interestingly, the passing game did better.
- The Bengals had no turnovers in the game. Palmer looked accurate on his passes, though it was pointed out that he missed a few open receivers. Nonetheless, he did not throw an interception or fumble the ball.
- Benson’s 150-yard game was his best of 2010, and his attitude in gaining the yards was a sight for sore eyes from this observer.
- Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins continued to shine as rookies, with Dunlap getting 2 sacks and Atkins one.
- The defense was able to hold Peyton Hillis to just 59 yards on 14 carries.
- The Bengals finished with 188 rushing yards, 100 better than their average.
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