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Win in din puts Bengals in playoff spin

Posted Oct 30, 2011


Brandon Tate

SEATTLE — The box of doughnuts sat next to Frostee Rucker’s locker and his joyous teammates raided them like the young Bengals have charged the NFL with their surprising start that barges into November at 5-2 after Sunday’s fourth straight victory.

“Hungry dogs. Hungry dogs,” they yelped as they grabbed one for the road and Rucker couldn’t help but agree after he had one of four sacks during one of the more complete team efforts in head coach Marvin Lewis’s nine seasons that resulted in a strange 34-12 blowout of the Seahawks.

“They’re hungry and unselfish; all they want to do is get wins,” Rucker said. “We’ve got the confidence a team gets on a roll.”

He could have added “young" after Andy Dalton joined Josh Freeman as the only rookie quarterbacks to win here at CenturyLink Field in the din of the NFL’s loudest venue. During a TV timeout left tackle Andrew Whitworth said the head referee approached him and nodded to Dalton.

“He’s pretty special, isn’t he?” Whitworth recalled the man saying and Whitworth just smiled. “He could see his attitude. How he was having fun and enjoying it. He’s amazing. He did everything he had to and this is a place that is as loud as it gets.

A day after celebrating his 24th birthday, the Bengals Red Baron added another notch to his belt. After spending October helping the Bengals stop a 10-game losing streak to the Bills, a seven-game losing streak in Jacksonville, and a seven-game losing streak against the Colts, Dalton ended October by piloting the Bengals to their first West Coast win since 2003 and their first win in Seattle since 1994.

"We only had one problem with the noise and we had to call timeout," said center Kyle Cook, who coordinated the silent count. "It's very loud. You have to credit our defense for stopping them early and we got a lead and that helped quiet it. You get put in a pressure-cooker and you deliver, it's only going to make you better. This is obviously a good test for us as we play better teams and if you get to the playoffs you're going to have games where it's loud." 

Now there’s another streak. The Bengals head to Tennessee next week with The Baron gunning for the team’s first five-game winning streak since the 1988 team won the first six games.

And, like then, the P word is beginning to make the rounds.

“It’s a huge win. That’s as close to a playoff atmosphere as you’re going to get,” Whitworth said. “You don’t play anywhere louder than this. I think we set out not to do anything less (than making the playoffs). That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re going for team wins anyway we can get them.”

And this one was as unscripted as Cincinnati's two touchdowns in the final 3:22 Sunday when wide receiver Brandon Tate popped a punt return 56 yards for a touchdown and safety Reggie Nelson returned a Tarvaris Jackson pass 75 yards on an interception return for a touchdown.

Running back Bernard Scott may have been held to 3.5 yards per on his 22 carries, but Dalton fired a pair of touchdown passes to wide receivers A.J.  Green and Jerome Simpson. The NFL’s No. 2 defense may have given up its most passing yards in two years with 350, but the run defense held Seattle to 3.1 yards per carry and stoned running back Marshawn Lynch on the goal line to end the first half with Nelson leading the charge.

And Dalton may have chucked two long interceptions trying to hit Green in the second half, but Tate popped his punt and set up Mike Nugent’s huge 48-yard field goal with 4:50 left on a 45-yard kick return. Throw in Adam Jones’s 63-yard punt return the first time he touched the ball in 371 days to set up the first Bengals touchdown, and this one was as team-oriented as Jones’s chest bump with Tate following the touchdown.

Jones didn’t come back to the field after he pulled up at the end of his return with what he called a knot in his hamstring. Jones, in his first game back since suffering a herniated neck disc last season, said it’s not pulled and he thinks he’ll be back to practice Wednesday.

In the meantime, Tate, who came into the game among the league leaders in punt returns of at least 15 yards but had nothing like Jones’s explosion, approached Jones and asked him how he could repeat what he had just done.

“I told him not to juke; just make one cut and boooosh, go,” Jones said.

Tate did for the first Bengals punt return for a score since Peter Warrck scorched the undefeated Chiefs for 68 yards in 2003. But Whitworth didn’t have to go back that long to know what makes this Bengals team different. The last time they were on The Coast, the 2009 AFC North champs blew a lead with poor defense in the final two minutes of the half and game and sloppy special teams play in Oakland.

The Bengals had quietly won the field position battle in all of the first six games with average drive start, but they did it in splashy fashion Sunday in the seventh game with 149 yards in kick and punt returns.  

“This is the kind of game we didn’t win in ’09,” Whitworth said. “On the road, it’s a West Coast trip, all the odds are against you. In ’09, if we didn’t run the ball on people, we couldn’t do anything. In this game, 14 found a way to get the ball to A.J. for a touchdown and created some big plays for first downs.”

The Bengals also manufactured points off defense and special teams, the surest way into the NFL win column, as well as that stand at the end of the half that had safety Chris Crocker fuming. With 14 seconds left and looking at a fourth-and-two on the Bengals 3, Seattle took its last timeout and tried to run it.

“I think we were disrespected there,” Crocker said, "and they ran, it too.”

The beat goes on. To accentuate the team win, two old pros came off the bench to deliver solid, professional at-bats. Donald Lee came up with two huge third-down catches with tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) sidelined, and outside linebacker Brandon Johnson helped the defense shut down the run (10 yards on nine carries in the first half) as he came up with seven tackles with Thomas Howard (hamstring) limited.

“No individuals on this team,” Johnson said.

Lee, a year removed from playing for the Super Bowl champs, isn’t about to compare this team to the Packers. But he told tight ends coach Jon Hayes after the game, “That’s a Green Bay victory right there ... that’s the type of score I’m used to seeing. That’s a Green Bay victory. The sky’s the limit for this team.”

Next week, the Bengals don’t need the sky as Lewis counsels them to stay down to earth.

“He was ecstatic,” Rucker said of Lewis. “But he told us there are a lot of things to clean up on film.”

 

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