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Bengals D Sets Up Showdown In Denver

Posted by Dan Hoard on December 21, 2015 – 2:50 am

In Sunday’s 24-14 win at San Francisco, the Bengals averaged a paltry 1.9 yards on their 36 rushes, converted a mere 4 of 14 third down opportunities (29%), and had to punt a season-high eight times.

“We wanted it to be pretty, you know?” said Marvin Jones with a laugh.

In this case it was substance over style.

Playing for the first time in 82 games without Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bengals relied on a ball-hawking defense and Kevin Huber’s booming left leg to methodically beat the 49ers.

“We knew coming into this game that defense was going to be key with AJ (McCarron) making his first start,” said Domata Peko. “They say a quarterback’s best friend is running the ball and a good defense so we were really trying to elevate our level of play. Thank God that we did.”

Dunlap recovers fumble (440x313)

The Bengals defense finished with four takeaways including a fumble that was forced and recovered by Carlos Dunlap midway through the second quarter. It gave the Bengals the ball at the San Francisco 11-yard-line and led to a one yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill.

“That’s something we needed,” said Jones. “We were off to a slow start.”

“(Carlos) is known for doing that type of stuff,” said Peko. “Hawking fools down. Hawking receivers and running backs down and stripping the ball. That was a big play defensively. We needed something to get us going and Carlos did that.”

On San Francisco’s next drive, a “shank you very much” 18-yard-punt by Bradley Pinion led to Hill’s second short TD. On the 49ers following possession, an interception by Vontaze Burfict set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to rookie tight end Tyler Kroft.

“It was awesome,” said Kroft after his first NFL TD. “It was kind of everything I dreamed of. They sent pressure and AJ and I knew that I was the hot read on that play so it worked out like it was supposed to.”

After sputtering on their first five drives, the Bengals scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes.

“It took us a little while to get our footing, but when we needed to put points on the board we did it,” said Kroft.

McCarron vs San Fran (440x307)

McCarron did exactly what the Bengals asked him to, completing 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT for a passer rating of 115.6.

“The biggest difference in the football game is that Blaine Gabbert had three interceptions and AJ didn’t have any,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham.

“He was cool, calm, and collected,” said Kroft. “Everything that you want in a quarterback.”

“I think he did a great job,” said Hill. “He didn’t turn the all over and that was huge.”

Taking care of the ball was enough to beat San Francisco, but the offense is likely going to have to be far more effective next week in Denver. A win would clinch the AFC North and give the Bengals a first-round bye in the playoffs.

“This is going to be a huge game for us and everybody knows that,” said Jones.

“It feels awesome that we’re in the dance for the fifth time in a row,” said Peko. “But we’re looking to do some damage this year and go further than we’ve ever been. We’re trying to get the ring.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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Bengals Lose Passer And Poise

Posted by Dan Hoard on December 13, 2015 – 10:03 pm

The Cincinnati Bengals played their first 10 games of the season without having to put a member of the opening day roster on injured reserve. Through 12 games, the only player to suffer a season-ending injury since the start of the year was Darqueze Dennard.

In other words, the Bengals had been incredibly fortunate in terms of injuries heading into Sunday’s 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh. But the odds caught up to them in Game 13.

“One thing about this league man, to get to that Super Bowl you’ve got to have some luck on your side,” said A.J. Green. “We had some bad breaks today.”

Dalton in cast (440x248)

In this case, the “break” was literal as the Bengals lost the player they could least afford to lose with a fractured thumb.

“It sucks about Andy,” said Kevin Zeitler. “It’s very unfortunate. It was a great play by the Steelers down there and Andy went to prevent the return and stuff happens.”

At this point, we don’t know how long quarterback Andy Dalton is going to be out. Additionally, the Bengals best cornerback Adam Jones missed the game with an injured foot, and the NFL co-leader in touchdowns, tight end Tyler Eifert, exited with a concussion.

“We’ve got to circles the wagons and stay positive,” said Michael Johnson. “If the injured guys have to be out for a while, we’ll have to have other guys step up. We’re built for this.”

In the NFL, you had better be. This season, the list of star quarterbacks who have missed considerable time due to injury includes Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Andrew Luck. Dalton had started 81 consecutive games, a record for a Bengals quarterback, and was having his best season with 25 TD passes, 7 interceptions, and a passer rating of 106.2.

“It’s so frustrating and I feel bad for him,” said Zeitler. “He’s been playing great and he’s been a great leader this year. He’s been doing everything he had to do, but it is what it is. We need McCarron to step up, we have talent in this room, and we’ve got to get through it.”

McCarron vs Steelers (440x294)

AJ McCarron did not appear overwhelmed against the Steelers as he went 22-for-32 for 280 yards, with 2 TDs, 2 INTs, and a passer rating of 90.6.

“I thought he did great,” said Green. “To be thrown in the fire like that against the Pittsburgh Steelers who are playing out of their minds right now, I thought he handled it well. The stage didn’t seem too big for him, he commanded the huddle very well, and I think when we get back to work this week and he gets some more reps with the ones, I think he’ll be fine.”

“AJ did not take one snap with the first string offense last week,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “He was Ben Roethlisberger at practice and ran Pittsburgh’s plays all week. So I tip my cap to him for how he did. He wasn’t happy obviously and was lamenting the two interceptions but that’s how competitive he is.”

“AJ can play – it’s not a secret,” said Johnson. “I expected him to come in and play well and he did. He’ll get more comfortable with more practice time if he has to be in there and hopefully Andy will make a speedy recovery.”

In the meantime, the Bengals next three opponents are San Francisco, Denver, and Baltimore. This weekend, they lost by a combined score of 74-28. Their starting quarterbacks were all backups at the beginning of the season: Blaine Gabbert, Brock Osweiler, and Jimmy Clausen.

“We’ll have a week to prepare with AJ (McCarron) and we’ve got to do whatever it takes to get that chemistry down as fast as we can,” said Green.

“We’ll be fine,” said Johnson. “The main thing is to do what we need to do to keep it a family and stay tight.”

“We’ve got to get ready for San Fran because we can’t get stuck on this,” said Zeitler. “We’ve got to finish strong.”

As bleak as things seemed at the end of the loss to Pittsburgh, the Bengals will clinch at least a wild card playoff berth with a win next week at San Francisco. And regardless of what happens the next two weeks, Cincinnati would win the AFC North by beating Baltimore in the final game of the regular season. The Bengals would also capture the division by winning two of their last three games, or winning one game coupled with a Pittsburgh loss or tie.

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In addition to losing their quarterback on Sunday, the Bengals frequently lost their poise. There were numerous skirmishes throughout the game, beginning with the pregame shoving match between Vontaze Burfict and Vince Williams – the Steelers linebacker that had threatened him on Twitter.

“I was shocked, I guess, at the beginning,” said Zeitler. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It was one of the least-poised games that I’ve ever been a part of and that was disappointing,” said Johnson. “We have to be better than that. We talked about it all week and they came in and got us to do exactly what they wanted us to do – and that’s get into all of that crap and not focus on playing between the whistles. You can see the outcome.”

“Guys lost their poise sometimes,” said Green. “That’s when you have to channel all of that stuff because you can’t fight on the field. So why get into it? Just go back out there and play the next play.”

“It was a tough, physical game,” added Zeitler. “What else do you expect from Bengals/Steelers?”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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The Game To Match His Name

Posted by Dan Hoard on December 7, 2015 – 12:50 am

The first time I met A.J. Green was boarding a bus at Paul Brown Stadium before my first game as the team’s radio announcer. The Bengals were headed to the airport for the 2011 preseason opener in Detroit and since I was still broadcasting games for the Pawtucket Red Sox at that time, I had not been able to attend training camp.

So I pounced on the opportunity to introduce myself to the Bengals number one draft pick and in the course of our conversation I asked, “What does A.J. stand for?”

“Adriel Jeremiah,” he replied.

What a majestic-sounding name I thought.

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Following Sunday’s 37-3 win over Cleveland, it occurred to me how fortunate we are to watch A.J. Green every week.

Green TD at Cleveland (382x440)

We’ve been blessed in Cincinnati to have some of the greatest players in sports history spend much of their careers here: Oscar Robertson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Jr., Anthony Munoz, and Ken Anderson to name a few. While it’s too early to rank Green among the NFL’s all-time greats, the numbers suggest that he is headed in that direction.

With his 128 receiving yards against the Browns, A.J. joined Randy Moss as the second receiver in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.

Additionally, Green is currently on a pace to finish the season with 93 receptions. If he increases that slightly and ends the year with 98 or more, he’ll break Larry Fitzgerald’s record for most catches by an NFL player in his first five years.

“I’m just having fun out here with my teammates,” said Green. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Winning is fun. It’s the first time that I’ve been a part of a 10-2 team and it feels great. It motivates you to get better each week.”

In the Green/Dalton era, the Bengals now have twice as many wins (50) as losses (25) during the regular season.

“They’ve been joined at the hip which is so fun and so cool about them,” said Marvin Lewis. “They’re everything you want in every way. They’re great role models and they’re great leaders for the rest of the football team.”

“We came in together and how we’ve grown over the last five seasons is unbelievable,” said Green.

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The 27-year-old receiver is not one to boast, but even he had to admit that his third quarter Baryshnikov-like toe-tap catch at the one yard line was a thing of beauty.

“It’s always a good highlight when you get that toe tap and fall out of bounds,” said Green with a grin. “So that was a good one.”

A.J. says that he had a little extra motivation in making the grab – he didn’t want to get criticized by wide receivers coach James Urban.

“The last couple of years I have been out of bounds by a heel a few times so I knew that I needed to get my toes down so that ‘Urb’ won’t yell at me,” Green told me. “This time I got my toes down so that was good.”

Yes, the four-time Pro Bowler is not beyond trying to please his coaches.

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Green taking field (440x293)

When the Bengals selected Green with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I had no doubt that A.J. could be a terrific player, but I questioned the wisdom of drafting a receiver that high.

I have rarely been so happy to be so wrong.

His game is as majestic as his name.


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