It’s hard to get too excited about a game against Jacksonville. Partly because this was kind of a lose-lose situation for the Bengals; nobody was going to walk away from this saying, “Huh, Cincy beat up a 1-7 team whose rookie QB, Blake Bortles, sounds like a shopkeeper from Harry Potter—now I believe.” Partly because, well, it’s Jacksonville, and Jacksonville is the one NFL city about which everybody can legitimately say, “The only thing I know about that city is that it has an NFL team. Wait—does it still have an NFL team? It does? OK. Right.”
Frankly though, when it comes to the Bengals, dull victories are to be savored, particularly when the AFC North has become the first division in post-merger NFL history to have every team sitting with a winning record halfway through the season, and double-particularly when later that evening the Steelers and Ravens played each other with identically strong records. Watching that game was kind of like Sophie’s Choice, except, you know, if Sophie wanted the Nazis to kill both of the kids.
Anyway, putting Meryl Streep to one side, the Bengals did win; less comfortably than they might have done, more comfortably than they could have done. Andy Dalton continued to be as perplexing as this team is as a whole—to his credit, he has kept the offense going now despite playing without (at one time or another) his best receiver (AJ Green), his second best receiver (Marvin Jones), his tight end (Tyler Eifert), star running back (Gio Bernard), starting guard (Kevin Zeitler), starting tackle (Andre Smith), and with a rookie center. He also zipped a couple of lethal passes around, the exponentially impressive Sanu hauling one in over his shoulder. A.J. Green found the endzone twice (though only one counted due to an offside that, brilliantly, he later claimed the referees normally warn him about) in his return to actino
On the other hand, there was yet another second half turnover from Dalton when he should have been putting the game to bed; Dalton pump-faking to nobody like a whirling dervish, his movements bringing to mind nothing so much as an infant on the cusp of walking for the first time, all softly flailing limbs and well-meaning confusion.
Fortunately there were hitherto unseen sparks of life: special teams exploded, with Rex Burkhead and Taylor Mays getting their hands on Jaguar punts, Dre Kirkpatrick downing a booming Huber punt on the one-yard line and Adam Jones continuing his deliriously fun streak of utterly refusing to fair catch. The defense started to come to life a little for the first time since September— sure, Emmanuel Lamur seemed to have borrowed Greg Little’s hands, but it was nice to see a linebacker in the right places to the point that he seemed like Bortles’ favourite target. (Ed’s note: “favourite.” So British.) And, as the minutes ticked down, safety George Iloka picked off the rookie QB in the end zone before admitting—to his credit—that while he knew he should have just sat on the ball, he wanted to try to run the length of the field for a touchdown. Can’t fault someone for having a dream.
Most excitingly, with highlight-reel running back Gio Bernard out, rookie Jeremy Hill had a huge day, including a 60-yard score to put the game to bed, his touchdown dance adding a flair that has been missed since Ochocinco left town. So sure, it wasn’t exciting. And sure, it was against Jacksonville. But let’s not get picky—there are still four division games, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, J.J. Watt, and “all the Bengals that we didn’t pay enough to keep who’ll probably want to make a point of that” Tampa still to come. Let’s enjoy a mediocre win while we can.
Man Of The Match: Special teams as a unit was truly superb and Mo Sanu is playing great, but this day was Jeremy Hill’s all the way.
Bengals 33, Jaguars 23