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Esiason Calls Bengals Dip “Life In The NFL”

This is my sixth year as the Bengals radio play-by-play announcer and the first time I will not have the opportunity to call a playoff game.

Is it just a one year dip?

They’re asking the same question in Carolina and Arizona. The two teams that met in the NFC Championship Game last year are a combined 10-16-1 this year.

“I think it’s just life in the NFL,” former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason told me this week.

dalton-vs-steelers

Sunday’s 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh was a microcosm of a frustrating season for Cincinnati. It marked the fourth time this year that the Bengals held a fourth quarter lead and did not hold on to win.

“That’s crept up on us all year – having some issues in the second half,” said center Russell Bodine. “You’ve got to play a full 60 minutes in the NFL and we didn’t do that today.”

“We jumped on ‘em early,” said receiver Tyler Boyd. “All we had to do was finish them.”

After scoring on all four of their first half drives and dominating time of possession 17:59 to 12:01, the Bengals were shutout in the second half. Cincinnati finished with 38 yards of offense in the final two quarters including just nine yards in the fourth.

“I don’t think we were as productive running the ball in the second half,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

“It was like they were playing offense in a closet,” said my broadcaster partner Dave Lapham. “There was nothing that was threatening the back end of the Steelers defense. It really caught up with them in the second half when the running game was contained a little bit better.”

“Man, it’s so rough to lose like that,” said Boyd.

The absence of A.J. Green on Sunday eliminated the Bengals’ best deep threat. A 25-yard pass to Brandon LaFell was Cincinnati’s only play of 20-or-more yards while the Steelers had six passing plays of 20-plus.

After throwing 25 touchdown passes in his first 12 games last season, Dalton has 16 TD passes with two games remaining this year. But Esiason says that Dalton’s stats are deceiving.

“I think Andy’s had a really good year despite the free agent defections of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the injuries to Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, and the problems they’ve had on the offensive line in pass protection,” Boomer told me. “I think he’s standing in there strong, he’s a tough kid, he’s everything you want in a quarterback in the NFL, and next year should be another year with significant expectations.

“When you look at all of the circumstances surrounding the team – on top of losing three coordinators to become head coaches in other cities – you realize that the Bengals have been poached and next year hopefully they’ll add a couple of draft picks and maybe a couple of free agents and get right back to where they belong.”

erickson-vs-steelers

The Bengals should benefit from all the snaps going to Boyd and fellow rookie wide receivers Alex Erickson and Cody Core.

“They’ll be good players in the future, but right now there’s a learning curve and unfortunately it impacts the quarterback in a negative light,” said Esiason. “I think about the wide receivers that I played with when they were rookies like Wayne Chrebet in New York. He was a good rookie but he turned out to be a great player, and hopefully one of these rookies will turn out to be that – a good rookie who will turn out to be a great player and a nice piece of the offense next year. When they come back next year they’re going to be totally different because they’ll know all the vocabulary, they’ll know exactly what their assignments are, and Andy will feel more comfortable with them in really high anxiety situations.”

Boyd expected to be heading to the playoffs as a rookie when he was selected in the second round by the Bengals this year. Instead, his first season will end on New Year’s Day against Baltimore.

“Coming into this organization, I felt like I was going to fill the void of the guys that departed,” said Boyd. “I’m pretty upset because I wanted to continue to play.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Streak Continues For Dominant D

The Bengals extended their streak to four games with Sunday’s 23-10 win in Cleveland.

I’m obviously not referring to a winning streak – which stands at two – but their streak of holding the opponent to less than 20 points.

vontaze-at-cleveland

Buffalo, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cleveland have managed to score 16, 19, 14, and 10 points against the Bengals during that stretch. And in the Baltimore game, Justin Tucker hit three field goals from at least 52 yards.

“They’re doing a tremendous job on defense – they really are,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham.

Cleveland managed to run for 169 yards, including 113 on 10 carries by Isaiah Crowell, but Robert Griffin III threw for a meager 104 yards and finished with a passer rating of 38.4.

“They’re not giving up the big play,” said Lapham. “They got gashed in the running game a little bit when Crowell hit them for a 42 yard run, but passing plays are not going over their head. They gave up eight touchdown passes of 20 yards or more in the first half of the season and none since.”

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by Hue Jackson.

Cleveland attempted deep passes to Corey Coleman on each of its first three possessions that fell incomplete.

“I thought the secondary really did a good job of staying on top of the routes,” said Marvin Lewis. “They tried a lot of vertical throws early in the game and I thought our guys did a good job of staying on top.”

“Paulie G (defensive coordinator Paul Guenther) called a great game and we played together as a team,” said cornerback Adam Jones.

And when Hue Jackson went to his bag of tricks in the second quarter and attempted a flea flicker from his own 2-yard-line, three Bengals surrounded the intended receiver Terrelle Pryor and George Iloka came away with the interception.

“We knew coming off of a bye that they would do that type of thing,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby. “We knew they would throw some different things at us and try to get us off balance before going to their bread and butter. That’s what they tried to do today.

“We over-communicated and made sure everybody was on the same page. Everybody was hearing the same language and talking the same language and we played fast. We trusted everything that we’ve been practicing for the last couple of weeks.”

The Browns did not get on the scoreboard until Cincinnati had a 20-0 lead in the third quarter.

“I think that’s been the common theme over the last two games,” said offensive tackle Eric Winston. “Getting up two scores and letting our defense go eat.”

“They got a touchdown late, but the game was pretty much over at the time,” said defensive tackle Domata Peko.

dunlap-in-snow

In the first half of the season, Cincinnati allowed an average of 23.6 points a game. In the five games since the bye, that’s dropped by a touchdown per game to 16.0. For the season, the Bengals rank 11th in the NFL in points allowed at 20.7 per game.

“We’re gonna continue to grind,” said Dansby. “We’re just going to keep running our race and let the chips fall where they may.”

“We just started a little late this year,” said Jones.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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A Leg Up On The Competition

The Bengals lost by a foot on Sunday.

The one attached to the right leg of Justin Tucker.

justin-tucker

Baltimore’s kicker drilled four field goals, including blasts from 52, 54, and 57 yards in the Ravens’ 19-14 win

“He’s money every time,” said Dre Kirkpatrick. “How the heck do you stop that? How do you even prepare for that?”

Tucker’s performance underscored the value of having an elite kicker.

While Mike Nugent’s recent woes continued on Sunday with another missed extra point – his third in a row over the past two weeks – Tucker has not missed a kick all season. He’s 27-for-27 on field goal attempts and 15-for-15 on extra points.

“He’s as much better than other kickers in the league as Tiger Woods was in comparison to other golfers when he was in his prime,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “Nobody can touch the guy.”

Tucker has made seven field goals of at least 50 yards this season and his ability to hit from long range was a major factor on Sunday. The Ravens managed to score nine points on drives that ended at the Cincinnati 34, 36, and 39 yard lines.

“I’ve never seen something like that,” said Carlos Dunlap. “We hold them to the 40 (yard line) and they’re in field goal range?

“If it was any other kicker it probably would have been a different ballgame.”

“You get the ball at the 25 (after a touchback), so if they get a couple of first downs they’re just about in field goal range,” said Adam Jones.

In contrast, when the Bengals drove to the Baltimore 38 yard line on their opening drive of the second half, they elected to punt.

“He changes the game,” said Lapham. “When you’re in the two minute drill at the end of the half or the game, you can approach it so much differently.”

Recent struggles aside, Mike Nugent has been a good NFL kicker for 12 years. He’s made 81% of his career field goal attempts to rank as the 36th most-accurate kicker in history. But Nugent has never made more than four field goals from 50-plus yards in a season. Tucker made three in the first half on Sunday. His range essentially means that the Ravens need one fewer first down on each of their drives to be in field goal range in comparison to most NFL teams.

“That’s what he’s paid to do and he does an unbelievable job,” said Rex Burkhead. “He’s a big weapon for them.”

“We have the best kicker in the world, hands down,” said Ravens cornerback Tavon Young. “We have so much confidence in him when he takes the field no matter where it’s from. Nothing more to be said about him, he’s the best.”

“They’ve got a blessing over there,” said Kirkpatrick. “He’s very special.”

How special?

Following the game, a reporter asked Tucker what he thought his range was under Sunday’s field conditions.

“About 70-75 yards,” he said.

He wasn’t joking.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Nugent Kicking Himself For Missed PAT

The bloke choked.

dustin-hopkins-dejected

I wish I could take credit for that English-accented line, but @BruceCahill tweeted it after Dustin Hopkins’ 34-yard overtime shank allowed the Bengals to fly home from London with a 27-all tie against the Washington Redskins.

“It’s a weird feeling,” said Domata Peko. “I’m happy we didn’t lose, but we traveled all this way to get a ‘W’ and we didn’t get it.”

“It’s not a win or a loss, but it feels more like a loss to me,” said Margus Hunt.

It briefly appeared that it was a loss when Hopkins’ first game-winning attempt split the uprights. But Marvin Lewis called a time out to ‘ice’ the kicker moments before he struck the ball and his second attempt veered wide left.

“I’m glad Marvin called time out because I wasn’t watching the first one,” said Jeremy Hill. “The agony was killing me.”

“It was perfect,” said Adam Jones of the time out. “That’s why he’s the head coach.”

Unfortunately, the Bengals might have won if not for a costly missed kick of their own.

Since the NFL moved the distance of PATs back by 12 yards last season, Mike Nugent had been nearly perfect, making 63 of 64 though the first half of Sunday’s game in London.  But he hooked one after Tyler Eifert’s third quarter touchdown catch, giving the Redskins the opportunity to force overtime with a late field goal.

“I think today is on the kicker,” Nugent told me. “You’ve got to be able to make a 33-yard extra point. Yeah, it was at an earlier point in the game, but it counts in the end.”

nugent-fg-beats-jets

Nugent started the year with a 47-yard game-winning field goal with 54 seconds remaining in the season opener and hit 13 of 15 field goal attempts in the first six weeks. But last week against Cleveland he missed 40 and 45 yard attempts, and Mike missed a 51-yard field goal try in addition to the extra point against Washington.

“Every kick that I’ve missed in the last few weeks felt very good coming off my foot,” said Nugent. “So it’s one of those things where I really have to study and try to get better. You have to learn from misses. Obviously you want to forget about them, but you have to learn from them and strive to be better.”

“Nobody hates it as much as Mike does,” said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons earlier this week. “He’s had stuff like this happen to him in the past and he’ll be back. I have full confidence that Mike will be fine.”

Nugent took little solace from the fact that Hopkins’ OT miss allowed the Bengals to avoid a loss.

“I know exactly how he feels,” said Nugent. “I did the exact same thing against Carolina in 2014. It’s not a good feeling. But I just have to worry about how I’m hitting the ball and I have to be able to finish for my team. The last two weeks I’m just not finishing.

“I’ve got to be able to come through for my team because the offense works so hard to get down the field and the defense works so hard to get us field position. It’s not a good feeling when you don’t come through.”

Especially when your team travels thousands of miles and plays 15 extra minutes only to come away with a tie.

“It was a war,” said Andrew Whitworth. “I thought both teams played well and both teams made some mistakes. That was a heck of a football game. It’s unfortunate not to win it.”

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Run Through The Jungle

On Thursday, Jeremy Hill celebrated his 24th birthday. On Sunday, he celebrated his first 100-yard rushing performance in 665 days.

The third year running back finished with a career-high 168 yards on only 9 carries in Cincinnati’s 31-17 win over Cleveland.

“It was great to see him get his mojo back,” said linebacker Vinny Rey.

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Hill’s big day included a 40-yard run in the first quarter and a 74-yard touchdown sprint in the third quarter.

“Those are always great,” said center Russell Bodine. “As an O-lineman, you don’t always know where the ball is because you’ve got your head on your block and then all of the sudden you can hear the fans. On the first big one that he broke that’s exactly what happened. I was blocking and all of the sudden you hear the fans roar and you think, ‘Something good must be happening.’”

The “something good” went beyond Jeremy Hill’s performance. Giovani Bernard added 80 yards on 17 attempts as the Bengals finished with 271 rushing yards. That’s five yards shy of the fifth-best single game rushing performance in team history.

“I got to sit back and watch everything open up and then our guys break through those holes,” said quarterback Andy Dalton. “I think the offensive line did a really good job and that we definitely controlled the line of scrimmage today.”

bernard-run-vs-browns

“My hat goes off to the offensive line,” said Bernard. “We’ve been working on this for a while now and it’s something we’ve really wanted – to run the ball this well. It was really those guys up front. They dominated every aspect of the run game and the pass game.”

“That’s what we’ve been looking for all year,” said Bodine. “We’ve been missing one little thing here and one little thing there and we’ve been saying that we need to put it together and have a day like we’ve had in the past. Obviously we were able to have a good one today. Now we need to build on that and keep going in the right direction.”

It’s actually the second week in a row that the Bengals have had a productive ground game. After averaging 84 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry in their first five games, the Bengals have rushed for 120 and 271 yards in their last two games while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

“We’ve added a little more intensity at practice and that makes this a little bit easier,” said Bernard.

“We’ve been grinding and trying to put in a little extra work trying to make things click,” said Bodine.

They clicked to the tune of 559 total yards against Cleveland and an average of 9.2 yards per offensive play.

“It’s not easy to put up nearly 600 yards on an NFL team, so the fact that we were able to do it is a good thing,” said Bernard. “We just have to continue to keep rolling.”

hill-run-vs-browns

There’s always room for improvement. After the game, Hill was still kicking himself for getting caught from behind and tackled at the 5-yard line on his 40 yard run in the first quarter.

“The one I had on that first drive I wish I could have back,” said Hill. “Gio gave me crap for it.”

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The Bengals Need To Follow Pats’ Lead

Last week after losing at Dallas, Marvin Lewis told his players to look in the mirror and figure out what they need to do better.

This week after losing at New England, they need only to look at the Patriots.

“I’m going to give the Patriots all the credit in the world,” said right guard Kevin Zeitler. “They’re a very good team and they showed why they are always in contention.”

Brandon LaFell spent the last two seasons playing for Bill Belichick. After the game, I asked him if the Patriots ever beat themselves.

“Hardly ever,” he told me. “I would say in the two years I was here, we probably beat ourselves like once out of the 32 games in the regular season.”

gronk

For 2 ½ quarters, the Bengals outplayed New England and led 14-10. But the lead should have been bigger.

“We had the opportunity to control the football game and let the damn thing get away from us,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

The difference between the two teams is that the Bengals made crucial mistakes and the Patriots didn’t.

“We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the leg,” said right tackle Eric Winston.

Case in point, an illegal contact penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick that extended a New England drive when it was third-and-18 late in the first half. Five Tom Brady passes later; the Patriots were in the end zone.

“I felt like it was a bad call, but you’ve got to play through bad calls sometime,” said Kirkpatrick.

Dont'a Hightower, Andy Dalton

Despite that costly mistake, the Bengals had the ball and a four point lead midway through the third quarter. But a 15 yard pass to A.J. Green was wiped out by a holding penalty on Cedric Ogbuehi. On the next play, Dont’a Hightower came in unblocked on a delayed blitz and tackled Andy Dalton for a safety. That ignited a Patriots run of 15 points in a 4:07 span.

“We had the ball up by four and we’ve got to go up by two scores,” said Winston. “When you’re playing a good team, you’ve got to provide your defense that cushion.”

“We made some mistakes today that cost us the game,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby. “We can’t do that. We’re slapping ourselves about that.”

They were still in the game in the fourth quarter when they drove to the New England 7-yard line trailing 25-14. But as has been the case far too frequently this season, the Bengals settled for a field goal. Through six games, the Bengals have scored 8 touchdowns in 17 red zone trips (47%). The Patriots have 12 touchdowns in 18 red zone trips (67%).

“That’s been our Achilles heel all year,” said Green. “Putting the ball in the end zone in the red zone.

“When you’ve got Tom Brady across from you, you need all the points you can get.”

“When you get opportunities against this team you’ve got to punch the clock and take advantage,” said LaFell. “If you don’t, things like this happen.”

There were some encouraging signs in Sunday’s loss and if the Bengals play like they did for the first 38 minutes, they can beat anybody left on their schedule. But they’re going to have be far more Patriot-like than they’ve been so far.

“I think there was some growing today,” said Zeitler. “I think that anyone that watched could see some good things on both sides of the ball. Now it’s time to get back to work and figure out the next step.”

“This league is about 60 minutes,” said Winston. “A lot of decent teams can go out there and keep it close for thirty. We have to put two halves together and finish the deal. Frankly, right now we’re not doing that.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Halftime Hurry-Up Helps Nugent Beat Jets

Mike Nugent’s 47-yard field goal that beat the Jets with :54 seconds remaining never happens if the Bengals weren’t the masters of “Toro Toro.”

That’s the name that special teams coach Darrin Simmons uses for what other teams call a “fire drill” and the Bengals ran it to perfection for three crucial points in Sunday’s 23-22 win at MetLife Stadium.

nugent-vs-jets-at-half

Trailing 16-10 with :18 left in the first half, Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 14-yard gain to the Jets’ 3 yard line with :13 on the clock. The Bengals were out of time outs and couldn’t spike the ball because it was fourth down, so Simmons and company yelled “Toro Toro” while holder Kevin Huber waved a white towel to signal everybody to hurry. The field goal unit managed to sprint on to the field and get lined up properly allowing Nugent to boot a 21-yard field goal as the half came to an end.

“The lineman can see Kevin waving the towel so our communication is incredible,” said Nugent. “I looked at Darrin and knew that we just took a time out and had zero left so we had to be ready for that situation. It was third and goal so we knew that if we don’t score a touchdown we’re kicking it. Hats off to the guys for getting down the field and even the refs for getting the ball down and giving us the opportunity to get it off.”

It’s the second straight year that the Bengals have pulled that off. Last season in week five, the Bengals forced overtime against Seattle when Dalton was tackled on a third down scramble with :17 remaining and Nugent was able to kick a 31-yard field goal as time expired. He later booted a 42-yard kick to beat the Seahawks in OT.

“When I saw Boyd go down, I was like, ‘We just did this less than a year ago so we should be able to do it again,’” said Nugent. “It was a great job by the guys and I have to give Coach Lewis and Darrin credit because that’s not something that we overlook. We actually practiced it this week.”

“It’s not something that we practice all the time,” said Simmons after the Seattle game last year. “We practice it a few times in training camp and we practice it a few times during the regular season.”

The Bengals were only down by three points at halftime because Jets kicker Nick Folk missed a pair of chip shots: A 22-yard field goal that was blocked by Margus Hunt, and an extra point following New York’s second touchdown. It was the first missed PAT of Folk’s NFL career in 313 attempts.

“The first thing I said to Nick after this game was, ‘I give you a lot of credit,’” said Nugent. “I had some trouble today in warmups. The wind is tough here. It feels like it’s in the kicker’s face in both directions.”

The blocked kick was Hunt’s first in the NFL after 17 at SMU.

“Me and Carlos (Dunlap) got a really good push up the middle and we were able to push (Ryan) Clady back,” said Hunt. “I was able to get my hand up and thankfully the kick was low as well. Right place, right time.”

Folk rebounded to make his next three field goal attempts and it looked like a Nugent miss might cost Cincinnati the game when his 52-yard attempt slid wide right with 9:02 remaining and the Bengals clinging to a one point lead.

“The one that I pushed to the right actually felt better than the next one I made,” said Nugent. “When I push a ball like that it’s usually an alignment thing. I need to go back and look and learn because my alignment was probably a little bit off. If you can do what I did today and correct it on the next one, that’s all that really matters.”

Nugent’s miss gave the Jets good field position and a nine play drive ended with a 23-yard field by Folk that gave the Jets a 22-20 lead, but left 3:23 on the clock.

“Once they hit that field goal, all I was thinking was that our offense was doing a great job of getting the ball down the field,” said Nugent. “At that point, you’re thinking, ‘What do I have to be ready for?’”

nugent-fg-beats-jets

Dalton marched the Bengals 55 yards on nine plays to set up Nugent’s game-winning 47-yard kick with :54 remaining.

“I’m just really thankful that my team got me out there,” said Nugent. “I hit that 52-yarder great but just pushed it a little bit. It was one of those kicks I want back, but I’m just really grateful that I had the opportunity to go back out there and hit one.”

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