The New Normal

 

 

After consecutive setbacks to the Texans and the Cardinals, the Bengals returned to their New Normal the past two weeks against the Rams and Browns, opening up cans of whoop-ass against teams that flatly just can’t hang with one of the NFL’s most talented and deepest rosters.

On Nov. 29, the day began with FOX sideline reporter Tony Siragusa dressed like a capo in the Blues Brothers Mafia and ended with a 31-7 Bengals’ deconstruction of the Rams.

On Dec. 6, the day began with the Browns starting their 24th different quarterback (Austin Davis) since they were reintroduced to the NFL in 1999 and ended with a 37-3 Cincinnati beatdown of Cleveland. (Obligatory Sam Wyche video clip.)The Bengals are 10-2, their finest start to any campaign since 1975.

Against St. Louis, any hope the Rams may have harbored for the hosts to be stuck in some sort of cloudy-day malaise—the high temperature vs. the Rams was 46 degrees, the first time all season the high temperature failed to reach 58 degrees for a Bengals home game—were erased on the Rams’ opening drive when Bengals safety George Iloka stopped Todd Gurley, the Rams’ star rookie running back, with a beauty of an open-field tackle on 3rd-and-1. The NFC scout seated adjacent to me in the press box began typing immediately after Iloka’s stick, and I have to believe his entry read something like, Was that George Iloka or…Earl Thomas???

After amassing 19 penalties and allowing eight sacks of Andy Dalton in their losses to the Texans and Cardinals, the Bengals righted the ship against the Rams, recording just three infractions while also permitting zero sacks and nary a quarterback hit. And a week after the Cardinals and former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer racked up 34 points and 383 yards, the Bengals defense bounced back, asphyxiating a limited Rams offense. St. Louis logged 12 offensive drives on the day, and the results were gruesome: one touchdown, five punts, three interceptions (including a pick-six), two turnover on downs, and one drive that culminated with the end of the game. Gurley, who entered the day fifth in the NFL in rushing and averaging over five yards per tote, was limited to 19 yards on nine carries.

The beat went on against the Browns. Dalton was pristinely protected all game, and the Bengals logged five (inconsequential) penalties. The Austin Davis-quarterbacked Browns were helpless on offense, registering three punts, two turnover on downs, a field goal, a fumble, an interception, a missed field goal, and one drive that ended the game. The Browns failed to reach the red zone and Davis was hit 11 times.

Oh, and the Bengals offense hasn’t been bad either, collecting 61 points and 753 yards over the past two games.

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In the interest of full disclosure, we must acknowledge that over the past two weeks, the Bengals faced off against two substandard signal-callers in Nick Foles and Davis. Iloka was asked after the Rams’ game about Foles’ struggles (three interceptions, 49.9 QB rating) and was diplomatic with his response—“We were able to get good pressure up front and then react to the ball” was one of his quotes—but in reality, Foles’ best play of the day was successfully dodging a head-hunting Vontaze Burfict during Leon Hall’s pick-six. (Fun fact: the Rams’ starting quarterbacks the last three times they’ve met the Bengals are Nick Foles, Kellen Clemens, and Brock Berlin. Woof.)

The only negative from this two-week stretch are the injuries, which are beginning to add up in the secondary. Adam Jones has missed a lot of practice lately and skipped return duties this week. Hall and Iloka didn’t play against Cleveland, and rookie Josh Shaw, playing nickel corner for Hall, left Sunday’s game with a back injury.

Otherwise, the last two weeks were back to normal for the Bengals—who were able to play eight newcomers in Sunday’s blowout—as the weekly chaos that is the NFL struck in other sites, with the chief development being the injury-ravaged Patriots losing for the second week in a row, thereby temporarily elevating Cincinnati—which leads the AFC in point differential at plus-138—to pole position in the race for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. And though there’s plenty of season remaining, the Bengals can essentially lock up the AFC North with a triumph over the fighting Roethlisbergers next weekend, moving them one step closer to their first bye through Wild Card weekend since 1988.

In any case, if you’ve been paying attention, you knew the Bengals would be just fine post-Arizona. Following the win over the Rams, someone asked Marvin Jones if the Bengals learned anything about themselves after losing two in a row.

“We learned that it’s the NFL,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t have all of them.”

Yeah, pretty much.

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Grant Freking is a Fulcher 2 Stay and Cincinnati Magazine contributor, and also writes for Land-Grant Holy Land, Redleg Nation, and The Ohioan. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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