When you’ve lost two games in a row, after winning your first eight, and you’re heading back home for a game against an inferior foe, what you want is a big fat helping of boring.
That’s just what the Cincinnati Bengals got Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It was kind of uneventful,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “Which is what we needed.”
The Bengals handled the St. Louis Rams the way you would expect the now 9-2 Bengals would handle a mediocre team, building a 10-point halftime lead, stretching it out in the third quarter, intercepting three passes on the afternoon, grinding out 140 rushing yards and walking off with a workmanlike 31-7 victory.
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“After losing two in a row, you want to get a win,” said quarterback Andy Dalton, “and I felt like we played well in all three phases of the game.”
Indeed they did. Dalton was ultra-efficient, completing 20 of 27 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Jeremy Hill rushed for 86 yards on 16 carries. A.J. Green caught six passes for 61 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. The third TD throw went to tight end Tyler Eifert.
Reggie Nelson, George Iloka and Leon Hall came up with interceptions. Hall returned his pick 19 yards for a touchdown and a 31-7 lead with 5:20 left in the third quarter, a score that came just 101 seconds after Dalton’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Green.
“We’ve got a lot of playmakers in that room,” said Nelson, who made his career-high sixth interception of the season in the first quarter.
It opened some eyes when we lost two in a row.
Bengals safety George Iloka
Thing was, the last two weeks, the Bengals weren’t making those plays. After a sterling 8-0 start, Cincinnati sleepwalked through a surprising 10-6 Monday night loss to visiting Houston. Lewis’ club played much better last Sunday against a tougher foe in Arizona, just not well enough to win. Carson Palmer and the Cardinals pulled out a 34-31 victory.
No shame in that loss. At 8-2 heading into Sunday, Arizona is at least the second-best team in the NFC. Still, one loss is one thing. Two means a streak.
“It opened some eyes when we lost two in a row,” said Iloka, the fourth-year safety out of Boise State. “It’s all about not building bad habits. Losing builds bad habits.”
So the Bengals went back to work. “We had a good focus this week,” Lewis said.
The Rams were just what the doctor ordered. Now 4-7, they arrived in the midst of a three-game losing streak and mired in controversy over the handling of quarterback Case Keenum’s concussion last week. With Keenum out, coach Jeff Fisher started Nick Foles, but the four-year veteran completed just 30 of 46 passes and finished with a passer rating of 49.9.
“I thought our defense was exceptional today,” Hill said.
19Todd Gurley’s rushing yards on nine carries for the Rams
That started up front with defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who registered three tackles for a loss, a sack and three quarterback hurries.
Together, the Bengals slammed the door on Hill’s counterpart, Rams’ rookie Todd Gurley. The former Georgia star never got untracked, gaining just 19 yards on nine carries. Aside from a 60-yard end-around by the swift Tavon Austin, the visitors never managed much of a running game, not that it was an effort thing.
“Anyone that implies it’s an effort thing, they can kiss my (rear),” Fisher said. “There is no effort problem with this team. That’s what happens when you lose four in a row — people say it’s effort.”
Good thing the Bengals stopped their losing streak at two, then. Cleveland is on the travel schedule for next week before Cincinnati returns home for a marquee matchup with Pittsburgh on Dec. 13.
“We just had to get back to our identity today,” said defensive end Carlos Dunlap. “Now that we’re back on track, we want to stay on track.”
When you are these Bengals, boring is beautiful.
Bengals at Browns
1 p.m. Sunday (Fox-56)