The Cincinnati Bengals need to consider themselves lucky. Heading into the second half of Thursday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bengals had their backs against the wall. Little was working on either offense or defense, and the Eagles—the lowly Eagles, who just last week broke an eight-game losing streak—were outplaying them on nearly every down.
The pass rushing stars were not the Bengals' defensive line—they were their Eagles counterparts, having notched four sacks on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the first 30 minutes of play and forcing two Dalton fumbles, his first of the season, resulting in two field goals.
After a quick BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run to start the game (a result of a Carlos Dunlap forced fumble on Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, recovered by defensive tackle Domata Peko), and a field goal as a result of a blocked punt, the Eagles put up 13 unanswered points of their own.
Returner Brandon Tate chose to field a punt on his own team's goal line, penalties piled up (six in the first half, with two resulting in Eagles first downs), and Dalton had just eight receptions to four receivers to end the half. It seemed like the Bengals were going to choke away their chance at the postseason against a terrible team on national television.
Oh, how things turned in the second half, however. After an initial three-and-out in their first possession and back-to-back sacks on Dalton in their second, the Eagles decided it was time for Christmas to come early and gifted the game away to their opponents.
In four consecutive possessions, the Eagles turned the ball over—first, a Leon Hall interception of Nick Foles, which was returned for 40 yards and set up a Dalton rushing touchdown; second, a Bryce Brown fumble recovered for a touchdown by defensive end Wallace Gilberry; third, a Clay Harbor fumble that resulted in a Josh Brown field goal to start the fourth quarter; and, finally, a muffed kickoff return that was grabbed by Taylor Mays that led to a Dalton-to-A.J.-Green passing touchdown.
In under three-and-a-half minutes, the game went from 13-10, Eagles, to 34-13, Bengals, keeping Cincinnati's playoff hopes alive.
This, despite a seeming inability for Cincinnati's offensive line to protect Dalton, its defensive line's trouble getting to Foles (zero sacks in the first half), and Dalton's inaccurate throwing while facing pressure. It wasn't a pretty or perfect win, the kind where the final score doesn't tell the whole story.
Dalton completed only eight passes in the first half, for 76 yards. Green-Ellis was the offense's only saving grace, with 55 yards and a score on 11 carries. Dalton was out-passed by the first-year Foles, who had 145 yards in the first half, and he was able to target seven different receivers, connecting with six.
The Bengals ultimately had to rely on a strange turn of events—big-time Eagles mistakes—in order to win this game. Though they managed to do a lot with their gifts, putting up at least three points on every Philadelphia turnover—it would have been far more convincing and more promising about their immediate future if the offense had made these plays on its own.
Dalton ended the day with only 127 passing yards—or 92 net—and completed just 13 of his 27 passes. He targeted a mere four players in the entire game, with Green the only actual wide receiver to catch his passes. Green-Ellis did manage to put up over 100 rushing yards (106 to be exact) on his 25 carries, but it is a bit unnerving when rushing yards make up the bulk of Cincinnati's offense considering the receiving talent we've seen it display this season.
This was a Cincinnati win, but it's hard to call it truly victorious considering how much the Eagles did to lose the game through the third and early fourth quarters. The Bengals can hardly expect the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens to hand them wins in this manner in the next two weeks, especially with all three teams fighting for their playoff lives.
The Bengals lucked out on Thursday night; when at first they looked like the bizarre team, what with their inability to rush the passer and protect their quarterback, the Eagles out-bizarred them in the second half. It was a fortunate win, but also a performance the Bengals cannot afford to repeat.