The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns, 31-10, on Thursday Night Football to improve to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. The Bengals have been a good team in recent years – they’ve made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons – but they’ve struggled to get over the hump, going 0-5 in the postseason.
This year, however, feels different.
“First and foremost, they’re healthy,” Bengals play-by-play voice Dan Hoard said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “People forget when they got to the playoffs last year and lost to the Colts, they didn’t have A.J. Green; they didn’t have Tyler Eifert, who played eight snaps last year; they didn’t have Marvin Jones. Andy Dalton is playing great football largely because he might have the most skill-position talent of any quarterback in the NFL. Try to take away A.J., Tyler Eifert gets you for thee touchdowns. Try to take him away, and Marvin Jones might get three. The Bengals have done a great job of surrounding him with great talent and those guys are healthy right now.”
Eifert stole the show Thursday, hauling in five catches for 53 yards and three touchdowns, while Green finished with four catches for 53 yards – a quiet day by his standards.
Not that Green was upset by this or anything.
“Winning takes care of everything,” Hoard said. “You really look selfish if you complain when your team is 8-0 and you’re not getting the ball. But I’ll tell you something that really helps along those lines: the fact that the superstar of the group, A.J. Green, has never complained at any level of football – high school, college, pro – about not getting the ball enough. And he didn’t get it all that often on Thursday night in the victory over the Browns, but A.J. is the ideal superstar to have on your team. He’s the hardest-working guy on the team, he never says a peep and everybody marches to his drum beat as a result.”
The Bengals led the Browns just 14-10 at halftime but held them scoreless thereafter, forcing four punts and a turnover on downs.
“I thought they did a much better job of keeping Johnny Manziel in the pocket,” Hoard said. “The notion with him is, ‘Well, let’s blitz him. He doesn’t have a lot of experience and we’ll really confuse him and we’ll force him to make bad throws.’ But that’s kind of playing into his hands. When you let him get outside the pocket, and you don’t have a bunch of guys back there in coverage, that’s when he drives. I thought they kept him bottled up a little bit more (in the second half). They didn’t necessarily sack him until the end of the game, but at least they kind of forced him to get away with what was so effective in the first half where he was extending plays, especially rolling out to his left and making a lot of big connections downfield that way.”
Manziel was 15-of-33 for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also ran four times for 31 yards. Hoard said Manziel’s performance was “infinitely better” than the last time he faced the Bengals (80 yards and two interceptions in a 30-0 loss).
“I think the Browns might have something in Johnny Manziel,” Hoard said. “If I’m a Cleveland Browns fans or a Cleveland Browns executive, I’m thinking, ‘Why continue to roll with (Josh) McCown, who’s 36, when you’ve invested a first-round draft pick in Johnny Manziel and he’s 23 years old? Let’s see what you got. They’re 2-7, they’re going nowhere. If I’m the Browns, I stick with Manziel and see if he can keep getting better because I thought he showed some promise tonight. I really did.”
The Bengals, meanwhile, are well on their way to their second AFC North title in three years, but can they win their first playoff game since 1990? Does the fan base believe this is finally the year?
Some do, some don’t.
“That portion of the (doubting) fan base definitely still exists,” Hoard said, “but they are gradually turning; 8-0 has never happened before in this franchise’s history. It just has the feeling of a special year. Consider this: they’re halfway through the regular season, they’ve made only one roster move so far, and the only roster move they’ve made was to add a Pro Bowl linebacker, Vontaze Burfict. They’ve put nobody on injured reserve, and it just seems like everything that could go right is going right. The schedule has been falling their way. The lack of injuries have been falling their way. So it’s really been one of those seasons so far.”