Bengals score necessary victory

In the NFL, timing can mean almost everything.

CINCINNATI - Just in time.

Among the highlight items of a wild NFL Sunday is the Bengals 31-13 win over the Giants, one that the Bengals would have celebrated like crazy had it come against the defending Super Bowl champs or some pee-wee team from down the street.

Winning is the greatest deodorant, and you can guess what was needed in that Bengals locker room.

The Bengals are no longer carrying a four-game losing streak or the burdens that come with such a streak. They'd played three "must-win" games in a row, and they'd lost all three. They hadn't won since September 30.

Then they beat the Giants. Now — temporarily, anyway — all is well again. Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes. One of them went to A.J. Green, who's caught one in eight straight games but usually faces double and triple teams.

On Green's 56-yard touchdown, nobody covered him. And that was just the start of a three-hour nightmare for the Giants.

For the Bengals, 4-5 never looked so good.

Timing isn't everything in the NFL, but timing matters. The Bengals caught a tired, struggling Giants team that badly needs its bye next weekend. Now, the Bengals play the hapless Chiefs on the road and host the Raiders in their next two games.

See where this is going?

Check the AFC standings. Unofficially left for dead after losing four straight, the Bengals can play themselves back into playoff contention.

That's still a bit of crazy talk, but it's a lot less crazy than it was a week ago. Without diving into scenarios, the Ravens (7-2) and Steelers (5-3) play each other next week and twice in the next three weekends. The Dolphins (4-5) just got blitzed by Tennessee, the Colts (6-3) schedule gets tougher over the next several weeks and the Chargers (4-5) are a mess.

The Bengals next three are at the one-win Chiefs, home vs. an Oakland team that's down its top two running backs and gave up 55 points in Baltimore Sunday, then at the Chargers.

More important than hypotheticals is that the Bengals didn't steal a victory Sunday. They were efficient. The defensive line was dominant. Adam Jones was all over the field, four different receivers caught Dalton's touchdowns and the Bengals both capitalized on their scoring chances and slammed the door after squandering second-half leads in each of their last three losses.

"For the past four weeks I’ve felt about the same way as I feel about the way we work and play," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We work hard and play hard, but today we made the plays at critical moments that are key to winning games in the National Football League. Your good players have to outplay the good players on the other team."

Lewis makes it sound simple, and in some ways it is. It's his job not to let his players get too excited or start thinking they've actually won something. They work every week trying to accomplish the same thing each Sunday.

What they've won is the right to exhale, and to go play to win again. These are long seasons. Long losing streaks are totally miserable.

"It gives us a chance to go to Kansas City next week one better than we would’ve been," Lewis said. "We’ve got to keep the same urgency and the same intensity and understanding that we had this week to go play on the road. Each one of our games means a lot. We can’t waste any more opportunities."

Coaches deal in one game, one play at a time. Lewis knows the Bengals' season was sinking fast.

There's still much to be fixed. There's still much to be settled. The Bengals won a big one Sunday; and an important one.

Just in time. Now, these games start to matter again.

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