Heading into Sunday's game against the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Bengals were in bad shape. At 3-5 and on a four-game losing streak, it appeared their hopes of a second consecutive playoff-bound season were all but dashed.
To break that slump by defeating the defending Super Bowl champions seemed like the tallest of orders. But ultimately, the Bengals rose to the challenge and defeated the Giants, 31-13, with impressive performances on offense, defense and special teams.
Cincinnati came out with a hot start, with two consecutive passing touchdowns on its first two drives. Quarterback Andy Dalton connected first with A.J. Green for a 56-yard score, and then an 11-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins put the Bengals up 14-0. They never once looked back.
Ultimately, Dalton threw four touchdown passes on the day and finally broke his streak of interceptions, throwing no picks after having at least one in each of the Bengals' previous games this season. While the run game again did not get going, with 76 total yards on the ground, the Bengals this time didn't need it. They got all the yards they needed in the air, fully exploiting New York's struggling secondary.
Dalton had just 199 passing yards on 30 throws, but every yard counted. And though the majority of Green's 85 yards on the day came from his first-quarter score, it build the Bengals a lead the Giants could not overcome.
Every time the Giants let their guard down, the Bengals exploited it.
Dalton's great day aside, the most impressive performance of the day came from Cincinnati's defense. Coming into this week, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was the least-sacked quarterback in the league. But the Bengals defensive line sacked him four times—1.5 sacks for defensive end Carlos Dunlap, one sack for defensive end Wallace Gilberry and a half sack for defensive tackle Domata Peko.
Defensive tackle Pat Sims, returning to the field for the first time this season after spending the intervening weeks on the PUP list with a hamstring injury, picked Manning off—one of two interceptions of the Giants quarterback. Manning also fumbled the ball once, with Gilberry recovering.
The Bengals made the most of their turnovers. The two Manning interceptions, coming in back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, led directly to two Bengals touchdowns—one caught by tight end Jermaine Gresham, the other by rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu.
The defense also held the Giants to just two field goals until the very end of the fourth quarter, allowing a garbage-time Andre Brown rushing touchdown that did little to help New York's situation.
Sure, the Bengals allowed 129 rushing yards, but they were yards to nowhere for the Giants, who had to pass the ball when playing from behind.
Manning had 46 pass attempts, his second-highest number this season. Those 46 attempts netted him only 29 completions and a mere 215 yards (and 189 net passing yards), with the Bengals tackling well, cutting off the deep passing and giving up few yards after the catch to New York's formidable crew of receivers. None had 10 catches, nor 100 yards, and after Hakeem Nicks' 75 yards, the most any other Giants target netted was 37.
The Bengals had their backs against the wall headed into Week 10, and few believed the team we saw in the previous four games could actually defeat the Giants. However, this wasn't the Bengals team of the past four weeks. Gone was Dalton's timidity under pressure—pressure, by the way, his offensive line handled masterfully, giving up no sacks and just one hit—as well as the defense's seeming inability to put forth a significant pass rush of its own during that span.
This is the type of play the Bengals have needed to display all season long. This is the first truly dominant team they've beaten during the Dalton era and the only one with a winning record the Bengals have felled this season. With the AFC an up-for-grabs conference, especially where potential wild-card teams are concerned, the Bengals have legitimate new life with this week's win.
Cincinnati needed to both make a statement and turn around its losing streak, and the Bengals most certainly did so by knocking off last year's Super Bowl champions. If this win can serve as the starting point for momentum building, it could be an interesting six weeks ahead for Cincy.