There didn’t seem to be a lot to say after the Bengals reserves beat the Ravens reserves in a game that had no impact on anything whatsoever. All eyes were on the playoffs—the Ravens would not be getting a bye, the Bengals would be the sixth seed regardless, and so both teams used the game as an excuse to let their starters avoid injury and their backups make a case for a bigger role the following week.
Although Ravens QB Tyrod Taylor gashed the Bengals defense for a couple of decent runs, the two key plays both were made by boys in stripes: backup QB Bruce Gradkowski making a 44-yard completion to Brandon Tate, and DE Carlos Dunlap returning an interception for a touchdown. However low the stakes, merely getting the win suggests a small change in the attitude of this Bengals team. Backups or no, the Bengals will enter the playoffs on a 7-1 streak, instead of limping in awkwardly like their previous two attempts. Perhaps more importantly long-term, this Andy Dalton-A.J.Green generation overcame their difficulties with the AFC North big boys, taking down the Steelers and Ravens in back-to-back weeks (despite how little those two stars may have actually contributed to the Ravens game).
This wasn’t the only monkey the Bengals shrugged from their backs though. They’ve now gone to the postseason three times in the past four seasons: only the Ravens and Patriots in the AFC have bettered that clip. No back-to-back winning seasons in two decades? Streak ended. No back-to-back playoffs in three? Streak ended. No QB other than all-time-greats Dan Marino and Peyton Manning throwing 20 touchdowns and taken his team to the postseason in his first two years? Add Andy Dalton to the list, please.
So why so little noise from the Bengals camp? This is a team with an eye on tomorrow. And the one streak that they still haven’t ended—the lack of a playoff victory since before backup TE Orson Charles was born—is the one that matters. The last time the Bengals won a playoff game, George Bush Sr. was still president. MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” was still in the charts, and, presumably, still cool. Seinfeld had only just started, but Friends had not. In other words, a long time ago. On Saturday, the Bengals have a chance to end that streak too. Until then, people will be keeping quiet. And that’s how you know, this is a new Bengals team.
Final Score: Bengals 23 Ravens 17
Man Of The Match: Carlos Dunlap. Sealed the victory with his intercepted score, which capped off a strong month from a man who was two the last time the Bengals won a postseason game.