First-place Bengals have 2 tough road games
The easy times are over for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals secured their second winning record in 19 years by
winning two of three during a stretch of games against struggling
teams, including a 23-13 victory on Sunday over the Detroit Lions.
Now comes crunch time: On the road against Minnesota and San
And the level of play that got them through the last three isn’t
going to work against those first-place teams.
“If there’s anything we’re guilty of, it’s playing to the level
of our opponents,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “When we’ve
played good teams, we’ve played better. It was hard not to look
forward to these two upcoming games.”
The next two weeks will go a long way in deciding whether the
AFC North leaders clinch a playoff spot and get some home-field
advantage. The Bengals (9-3) trail Indianapolis (12-0) for the best
record in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They’re tied with San Diego (9-3) for the second-best record,
making the next two weeks very important.
“At this point in the season, you want to peak,” Palmer said.
“You want to play your best football in late December and January.
We have two big weeks ahead of us with Minnesota and San
In the past three, they’ve been less than the best.
The defense and the running game have been their two constants
against down-and-out teams. The Bengals lost in Oakland 20-17, beat
Cleveland 16-7 and then finished off the Lions. Cincinnati has
given up only 187 points, the fewest in the league, and ranks sixth
overall in rushing.
The wins at home against the Browns and Lions were so humdrum
that fans repeatedly booed. The offense knows it will have to score
more points – one of their touchdowns against Detroit came on an
interception return – to keep up with the Vikings and Chargers.
Minnesota (10-2) has scored 359 points, second only to New
“Especially going into a dome next week, it’s going to be very
critical for us to be at our best,” receiver Chad Ochocinco said.
“I’m sure that’s what we’re going to do. I’m sure next week it
will be the other way around: We’ll be playing to the level of our
competition and not below it.”
Coach Marvin Lewis criticized his team at halftime against the
Lions for playing down to their level. Cincinnati managed only 47
yards in the first quarter, and the defense got pushed around
initially. They also had stretches against the Raiders and Browns
when they didn’t show a lot of crispness or emotion.
“I guess people would say this was a hard three-game stretch
for us as far as keeping the focus,” Lewis said. “If it was, then
it was. Now we get to go do what we need to do, and that’s go play
the Vikings. There will be no excuses now.”
The one constant on offense has been the running game.
Cincinnati has brought in an extra offensive lineman to block on
some plays, overloading the line to one side. Cedric Benson
returned after missing two games with a hip injury and ran for 110
yards against Detroit, but averaged only 3.1 yards per carry
against a defense that was geared to stop him.
“They said, ‘If we got in a situation where we have to stop the
run, we’ll throw some exotic things in there,”’ offensive tackle
Andrew Whitworth said.
The Bengals have had three different backs – rookie Bernard
Scott, newcomer Larry Johnson and Benson – top 100 yards in each of
the past three games, the first time that’s happened in the NFL
“That’s pretty big-time in this league because you’ve got to
run the ball to win championships, no doubt about it,” Benson
said. “The guys up front are making that happen.”
Benson thinks the challenge of playing another first-place team
will finally bring out the best in them.
“Aw, man, I surely hope so,” Benson said. “I can only speak
for myself. I know there’s some things I need to tighten down on. I
wasn’t perfect out there, and I want to be next week.”