So much for the pregame analysis.
I think most of us expected the Bengals defense – currently number one in the NFL in sacks – to tee off on Philly’s rookie quarterback Nick Foles on Thursday. But it was Andy Dalton who was running for his life all night as he was sacked six times and forced to fumble twice.
“The run blocking was pretty good, but boy, the pass protection was struggle city,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “The Eagles were running a lot of twists and stunts and when the Bengals went to help, there was nobody there because of those stunts. It isn’t anything that you don’t see on a weekly basis in the NFL, but you usually don’t see it that much. Once Philadelphia started having success, they went to it again and again and again.”
But the inability to protect Dalton didn’t spell doom thanks to a brilliant performance by the Bengals defense.
With roughly eight minutes to go in the first half, the Eagles had a first-and-goal opportunity at the three yard line and settled for a field goal. Then with 39 seconds left in the half, Philadelphia had a first-and-goal at the two yard line and settled for another field goal.
Instead of taking a 21-10 lead and abundant confidence into the locker room, the Eagles were only up by three points.
“As a defense, we pride ourselves in not letting them score near the goal line,” said Manny Lawson. “That’s a critical area because it can change the momentum of the game. Our guys stepped up and made plays.”
The biggest play of the game came in the third quarter. After the Bengals offense opened the second half with a pair of three-and-outs, Leon Hall came up with his first interception of the year and returned it 44 yards.
“That was huge,” said Reggie Nelson. “We needed that and that’s what playmakers do. Leon is a playmaker and he showed up. That was a big play to get the momentum back because we were kind of dead and that gave us that spark.”
Hall’s interception gave the Bengals a short field and led to an 11-yard touchdown run by Dalton that gave Cincinnati a 17-13 lead. It also opened the floodgates, as the Eagles fumbled three times in the next 2:04, leading to 17 more points.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, but defensively it was very pretty,” said Lapham. “The only thing they didn’t do was get a bunch of sacks. They did get one, but forced several fumbles including one taken for a touchdown … a lot of things went right.”
“We shut them out in the second half and that’s what counts,” said Jones.
What really matters is that the Bengals took a half-game lead over Pittsburgh in the wild card race. If the Steelers lose at Dallas on Sunday and the Jets lose at Tennessee on Monday, Cincinnati could clinch its second straight playoff trip with a win at Pittsburgh next week.
“This wasn’t our best performance but we won the game,” said Jones. “That’s what good teams do.”
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