Bengals bring focus, keep postseason in sight
CLEVELAND -- One week the world is collapsing around the Bengals. The next, life isn't so bad after all.
Life is looking up again for the Bengals after Sunday's 30-0 whitewashing of the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was payback for the November game at Paul Brown Stadium when the Browns handled the Bengals 24-3 on a Thursday night. It was putting last week's disastrous debacle of a fourth quarter against Pittsburgh behind them. It was a brutal welcoming to the NFL of Cleveland rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Most of all, this was a game the Bengals couldn't afford to lose. They played with that attitude. They still lead the AFC North. Their 9-4-1 record is one-half game better than the 9-5 marks owned by Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Denver is up next, on a Monday night. We all know what the combination of prime time and the Bengals has meant in the past but that'll be something to deal with next week.
For the time being, the Bengals played the kind of game they wanted to against the Browns on both sides of the ball and on special teams. They had a playoff mentality, and for once that word "playoff" wasn't a bad omen.
"We were real focused. We knew this was a playoff game and our playoffs started today," said safety Reggie Nelson. "We wanted a lot of energy. I think we came out with that and upheld it. Lately we've been just a first half team and I think our defense responded good to the second half and came out and played."
A week after giving up a season-high 543 yards to the Steelers, including 229 yards in the fourth quarter, the Bengals held Cleveland to just 107 net yards and five first downs in the process of earning the franchise's first shutout since a 14-0 win here in 2008. It's the third-fewest yards allowed by a Cincinnati defense. Ever. It's the fewest first downs allowed in franchise history, a two of those first downs came via penalty.
Manziel -- Johnny Football -- was making his first career start. The Bengals attacked him and the Browns offense to the tune of three sacks, six tackles for loss, six hits on the quarterback, four pass breakups and two interceptions. Manziel completed just 10 passes all game and the Browns ran just 38 offensive snaps. The lowest total in a game this season by any team coming into this weekend's play was 39 snaps by Tennessee against Pittsburgh on Nov. 17.
"Our guys did a nice job of understanding that we've got to contain him as much as anything," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We can't lose sight of him. He was going to go through a progression and, if not there, pull the ball down. We were in good shape all day today. That made a big difference in the football game."
When the Browns beat the Bengals the first time around, they ran the ball 52 times. They had just 17 rushing attempts Sunday.
That game, and last week's 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh, were motivation for this week.
"It was hard to watch that film in the fourth quarter against the Steelers," said linebacker Rey Maualuga. "We knew how the week of practice needed to be. Up tempo, very physical. Everybody had to rally together to have a good week of practice. It didn't help that every time you turned on the TV and it's about "This guy's going to have his first start". We didn't let that affect us, either. We just had to come together as a team and as a defense and prepare like any other week."
The Bengals took the opening kickoff and drove 81 yards on 14 plays for the first points of the game. They ran it seven times, including the first four plays of the game, and Jeremy Hill finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
"It was big. It set the tone for the game. It's what we were trying to do," said quarterback Andy Dalton. "We did a good job of moving the ball and were able to punch it in. I think that's the biggest thing. You want to be able to start fast and really set the tone."
For this week, the tone is a good one for the Bengals. Now, about that prime time thing...
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