I’ll admit I was wrong.
Won’t be the first time and certainly won’t be the last.
Coming into the season, I, as well as many others didn’t have much hope for the Cincinnati Bengals. I predicted a 6-10 season, their third straight without a playoff appearance. Many others were in a similar realm, predicting anywhere from 4-12 to 8-8. USA Today had them 7-9, ESPN had them 25th in their preseason power rankings, NFL.com 27th.
The projections and predictions were bleak.
Well, here we are two games in and things are trending upward after Thursday night’s 34-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The offense shows balance, the pass rush looks in tune and the defense is forcing turnovers.
They’ve shown they can come from behind (trailing 23-10 to Indianapolis in the third) and hold a lead (led Baltimore 21-0 in the first and 28-7 at half Thursday). Something they’ve failed to show capable in prior years with this team.
Thursday started to get that uneasy feeling in the fourth quarter that many Bengals fans have endured. Blowing away a game in primetime well in their grasp. Leading 28-23 with 9:35 left, the offense had stalled out with four straight punts. The Ravens had scored 16 unanswered to get within a score and the momentum clearly on their side, Paul Brown Stadium, an announced 50,018 in attendance (tickets distributed, weren’t that many butts in seats, fans need more wins to jump back on the bandwagon, but that’s for another day) felt uneasy and quiet.
But a 10-play, 65-yard drive spanning 6:36 resulting in a field goal followed by a forced fumble by Carlos Dunlap on Joe Flacco recovered by Shawn Williams showed this team might be different than year’s past. They might have that killer instinct. Randy Bullock showed he can knock down clutch field goals, with two in the fourth quarter from 28 and 40 yards, the one from 40 virtually putting an end to the game.
The win gets them to 2-0, the first time since 2015, their last postseason appearance. How important is 2-0? According to ESPN Stats Info, From 1990 to 2017, the average finish of teams that began 2-0 was 10-6. Plus, 142 of them made the playoffs (62.3 percent), 18 of them were league champions. That important.
To the offense, the 68 points put up in their first two games are their second most in team history, trailing just the 2007 team who had 72. To put a little perspective on it, they had nine points in their first two games last season.
After throwing an interception on his first pass of the season, Andy Dalton has gone 69 pass attempts without one, completing 64 percent of his passes for 508 yards and six touchdowns. His first half play Thursday night was near clinical, tossing four touchdowns, three of them to AJ Green against a Ravens secondary regarded as one of the tops in the league.
Joe Mixon has tallied 179 rushing yards on 38 carries in two games. He was a little dinged up Thursday night early on, battled through and provided a key 21-yard run to set up the Bengals field goal to put them up 31-23.
The line play has been near stellar, keeping Dalton upright, including zero sacks allowed Thursday night.
The defense at times has been great, other times not so great. But they’ve been opportunistic, forcing five turnovers and tallying six sacks.
Still a long way to go, including two tough road tests in a row at Carolina and Atlanta, but so far, so good for the Bengals.
NOTES AND QUOTES
A.J. Green’s three-touchdown performance on Thursday night was a career-high for him.
“That defense over there, you know they’re going to take some things away from you. I just had to make plays when my number was called,” Green said.
Rookie Sam Hubbard recorded the first sack of his career on Thursday night in the first quarter.
“Everything I dreamed of and more. I thought he had thrown the ball away and stole it from me. It was awesome, great feeling, perfect play and something I can emotionally never replace or forget about,” Hubbard said.
Rookie Jessie Bates recorded the first interception of his career Thursday night in the first quarter.
“I had seen Flacco kind of stare at the lower route, so I came out of the post and it was right there on a platter like you said,” Bates said.
RED ZONE READY
With three out of four chances in the red zone resulting in touchdowns, the Bengals are now five of six in that category to start the year. Last year, that number was around 55 percent of red zone opportunities resulting in touchdowns, including just 37 percent at home.
“It’s a new year and new offense. Everything’s different. I feel like we’ve made plays when we’re down there, and that’s what we’ve got to have,” Dalton said.
LATE SEASON SUCCESS
Earlier in the week, Green said the win over the Ravens in the final week of the season last year helped springboard them into this year. The Bengals won the final two games of the season over Detroit and Baltimore.
“It was positive because we were a little depleted at the end of the season. We had three games in a row where we lost. The guys showed their character, resilience and the pros that they are. We found a way to win those last two games, with leadership from Andy, A.J. (Green), Clint Boling and those guys out there, along with our defensive guys. They are prideful guys, and you have to say they went out there and played their tails off. It’s helped bring us forward. We’ve got that group of guys who, until the last two seasons, thought the playoffs were automatic. They liked that (laughs), so they want to get back there,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.