Bengals are back in their groove
CINCINNATI (AP) — Now, that’s more of what the Bengals have come to expect of themselves.
Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes — two of them to A.J. Green — and Cincinnati dominated in a 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday that left the Bengals feeling like old times.
"I felt like we played well in all phases of the game," Dalton said. "It’s good to get a win, and it’s good to get a win the way we did."
The Bengals (9-2) had lost their last two games — both in prime time, both in the closing minute. On Sunday, a team that aspires to get one of the top seeds for the playoffs got back to playing like it’s worthy of the postseason.
"Every game from here on out is like the playoffs and means a lot to this team," said safety Reggie Nelson, who had one of Cincinnati’s three interceptions.
The Rams (4-7) fell apart at the end of a trying week and dropped their fourth straight. Receiver Stedman Bailey was shot in Florida on Tuesday and remains hospitalized. Kicker Greg Zuerlein strained a hip muscle on Friday and was replaced by Zach Hocker, who didn’t get to practice with the team.
And Case Keenum wasn’t cleared to play after suffering a concussion a week earlier, prompting the Rams to go with the demoted Nick Foles. He floated a pass that Leon Hall intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, making it a blowout.
"Everyone is feeling emotional right now," said Foles, who was 30 of 46 for 228 yards. "I’m feeling emotional right now. It’s tough."
Five takeaways from Paul Brown Stadium:
DALTON’S DAY: Facing a defense that came in with 30 sacks, Dalton was hardly touched. He went 20 of 27 for 233 yards with one interception and a passer rating of 121.4, his highest in three games. He’s 29 yards away from joining Peyton Manning as the only NFL players to throw for 3,000 yards in each of their first five seasons. His second touchdown pass went to tight end Tyler Eifert, who leads the NFL with 12 TD catches.
DEFENSE BACK IN FORM: The Bengals defense gave up a season-high in points during a 34-31 loss at Arizona the previous Sunday night and was aching for a chance to set things right. Facing the league’s lowest-ranked passing offense, the unit clamped down from the outset. Tackle Geno Atkins had a sack, giving him the league lead for an interior lineman with eight. The defense has limited opponents to 10 points or less in four of the last five games.
"It opened some eyes when we lost two in a row," safety George Iloka said.
NEXT RAMS QB: Coach Jeff Fisher said after the game that Keenum will start against the Cardinals next week if he’s cleared to play. One of Foles’ interceptions was tipped; the other two were floated. The worst was a throw on the run that went right to Hall for a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"It’s one of those things where I was trying to make too big of a play in that situation," Foles said.
CAN’T RUN: With the passing game doing so little, opponents are gearing up to stop Todd Gurley and the Rams’ running game. He managed only 19 yards on nine carries Sunday, finding little room behind St. Louis’ injury-depleted line. The Rams’ biggest play came when Gurley took the snap in a wildcat formation and handed off to Tavon Austin, who ran 60 yards.
REMEMBERING BAILEY: Austin and Kenny Britt wore Bailey’s jersey number in practice last week. Austin led the Rams in rushing with 63 yards on four carries and had six catches for 33 yards. Players worried about Bailey during the week, and the lopsided loss was just another disappointment.
"We wanted to go out there and play for him," Foles said. "That’s what hurts."