First, a confession. I have lived in New York City for over six years and I have never seen the Bengals beat a New York team. To be fair, that’s partly because there aren’t any NFL teams in New York, just a couple of teams in New Jersey who are too embarrassed to admit it, the way people often pretend to be from the trendy neighborhood nearby, or that Justin Timberlake pretends to be an actor.
We’ve had consistent melt-downs against the Jets, and we’ve had Ryan Fitzpatricks against the Giants, and either way I have had to stroll around the streets of Manhattan with jaw firmly clenched and eyes on the sidewalk (disclaimer: everyone walks around New York like this on Sunday evenings). So a top-to-bottom beat down not only gave the Bengals’ season the shot in the arm it so desperately needed following a four game slump, but, more important, allowed me to swagger around the city in my Gresham jersey looking smug, something that I think is important to all of us.
There was the Andy Dalton we remembered from October, slinging touchdowns to the inexplicably alone A.J. Green (note to the Giants secondary: If you’re going to talk trash about slapping a guy around, you need to stand near him, or it’s tricky) and to every other receiver he could find. There was that Bengals defense that I drafted in my fantasy league, only to drop two weeks ago and replace with…um…the Giants. There was the imaginative play-calling of Jay Gruden – going for it on 4th down, using Mohamed Sanu as a running back and cutting Dalton loose.
The Giants’ defensive line is widely regarded as consistently fearsome, but the Bengals kept Dalton clean and upright right from the get go. As a result, Dalton finally managed go a whole game without being intercepted, whilst throwing for a career-high four touchdowns; Baby Hawkins, Gresham, and (for his first receiving score) Sanu muscling and juggling their way into the end zone. This game, however, was as much about the defense as the offense. Finally the Bengals started generating turnovers from Eli Manning, giving the Super Bowl MVP flashbacks to the torturous time his Sunday afternoons consisted of having his head held in the toilet by one brother whilst the other flushed, instead of earning millions to throw a ball around. An electrifying return by Adam “Pacman” Jones augmented his forced fumble, four Bengals sacked Manning and twice he threw interceptions. Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, 340lb lineman Pat Sims (1 game played this year), currently has more interceptions than star cornerback Leon Hall (7 games this year, 20 career picks) and starting safety Reggie Nelson (8 games this year, 15 career picks) combined. I think we can all agree that that was pretty inevitable.
It all goes to show what can happen when this team plays to its potential. The much maligned Rey Maualuga had 12 tackles and kept Giants TE Marcellus Bennett out of the end zone. The Bengals secondary, shredded repeatedly this year, shut down All-Pros Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and – (pause for dramatic emphasis) – made tackles!!! Jay Gruden and co. remembered they have the best receiver in the league (don’t believe me, take a look at Megatron’s stats this year) and the Bengals fans have a small (and inevitably teasing) glimpse of hope for the rest of the year.
Final Score: Giants 13 Bengals 31
Man of the Match: Pat Sims. OK, I’ll concede that Dalton was imperious, that Green embarrassed the Giants defense, and that Pacman was a game-changer today. But come on, his first game back and the defense is suddenly what we expected? That’s no total coincidence. Plus, how many times is this fella going to pick off a Super Bowl MVP?