Cincinnati has been strong all season in one area or another, but on Sunday it all came together at once to culminate in a beatdown of epic proportions to officially solidify the Bengals as contenders.
While Cincinnati fired on all cylinders in front of its home crowd, more was revealed about the team than ever before. The young Bengals continue to grow with each contest, as the coaching staff improves at managing the talent it has assembled.
The result was a major victory, but also a stepping stone of sorts in the journey for Cincinnati. Here are the biggest takeaways as the Bengals now turn their attention to another AFC East foe in the Miami Dolphins for a showdown on Thursday Night Football.
The title says it all.
Coming into the season the Cincinnati Bengals' schedule was anything but easy on paper, and one of the reasons was a slate of games against the AFC East.
After all, Tom Brady resides there, the Miami Dolphins were on the rise last season with a rookie under center and New York and Buffalo can be tough outs.
Well forget all that. In Week 5 Cincinnati defeated the New England Patriots 13-6 and were the first team in over 50 games to hold Brady without a touchdown pass. The Bengals followed that up with a 27-24 win over Buffalo.
A 49-9 victory over a Jets team with a winning record playing sound football, especially defensively. Cincinnati has one game left on a quick turnaround on Thursday against Miami, but even a 3-1 record against the AFC East was hard to fathom coming into the season.
Utter dominance over a division is no easy task, but the AFC East was more than kind to Cincinnati this year.
The Cincinnati coaching staff is doing such an outstanding job with the wealth of talent it has amassed that it must be a nightmare to prepare for the offense.
Prepare too heavily for the run, and Andy Dalton can go over the top. Focus too much on A.J. Green, and the Bengals can use a tight end heavy attack or roll with the perfect combination of running backs for any scenario.
Now, New York showed up to Paul Brown Stadium and didn't appear too prepared for much of anything, but the point stands. Cincinnati elected to focus on the passing game and racked up 323 yards in that regard while only carrying the football 25 total times for 79 yards—17 of which came from athletic backup quarterback Josh Johnson in garbage time.
The running backs and tight ends were widely ignored outside of red-zone attempts (one of which was a touchdown to Jermaine Gresham). Instead, the Cincinnati attack was focused on exploiting weaknesses the Jets tout at cornerback.
Cincinnati is versatile enough to adapt to a new game plan each week and effectively execute. Not many teams can say that, and it makes the Bengals' offense that much more dangerous in the long run.
The rest of the NFL is sleeping on Vontaze Burfict.
By now his story is well known, but Burfict continues his stellar play each week. Sunday against the New York Jets, he once again led the team in tackles with 11 total despite playing the outside linebacker position.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), entering the contest with the Jets, Burfict was the No. 7 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker with high marks in every regard outside of penalties.
That, of course, is the biggest knock on Burfict—the game was already in hand, but he was hit with yet another personal foul when he lined a stationary opponent up and led with the crown of his helmet.
Burfict has some growth to do in that department before he establishes a bad reputation, but he continues to rank with the best in the NFL in the tackle department and is the heart and soul of the Bengals defense as he calls the plays on the field.
Sunday was just another day at the office for Burfict, the former undrafted free agent no one would take a chance on outside of Cincinnati.
It was a major win for Cincinnati over the New York Jets on Sunday, but it did not come without a price, as the Bengals once again were hit with injuries.
Last week the team lost starting corner Leon Hall for the season to a torn Achillies. On Sunday, Cincinnati lost starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, safety Taylor Mays and starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth as documented by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Mays with right shoulder injury. Out for rest of the game— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) October 27, 2013
Whitworth with a knee injury. Return is questionable. Maualuga also has a concussion, which is determining factor in which he won’t return— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) October 27, 2013
In the coming week we will know more about the severity of the injuries, but keep in mind the Bengals have a short turnaround with a contest against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football in less than a week.
As mentioned, the Cincinnati Bengals lost star cornerback Leon Hall last week, which was justifiably a source of panic for many.
In Hall's place against New York was veteran safety Chris Crocker, who more than held his own and even intercepted rookie quarterback Geno Smith and ran it back for a touchdown.
Crocker was not alone in the end zone, as Adam Jones, the man who starts in place for Hall, also picked off Smith and returned it for a touchdown.
While it was against a rookie quarterback, the Bengals secondary held up well as expected. Cincinnati won't always be gifted with such an offensively inept opponent, but it does not hurt to have a contest to get acclimated to life after Hall.
All in all, the Bengals intercepted Smith twice, sacked him four times and held the offense to 240 total yards overall.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals going into the season was who would step up across from A.J. Green.
Sunday brought that answer in an emphatic way—it's second-year receiver Marvin Jones. We'll let this number from Geoff Hobson of the team's official site do the talking:
Marvin Jones new Bengals record holder with four TD catches in a game— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) October 27, 2013
So yes, the answer is Jones. While he abused rookie corner Dee Milliner for the majority of his production, Jones has been consistent in the past few weeks as a focal point of the game plan for the Cincinnati offense.
Mohamed Sanu, the other name many thought would step up, still has his role in the slot as a possession receiver, but Jones is the answer the Bengals have desperately been searching for after Green.
Jones finished with eight receptions for 122 yards and the aforementioned four scores. Now that he's emerged and has the trust of Dalton and the staff, Jones may just be getting started.
There is not much in the way of negatives that can be thrown Andy Dalton's way as Sunday's win over New York marked the third consecutive game Dalton threw for over 300 yards.
Dalton finished the day with 325 yards and had four touchdowns in the first half, further proving that when the play-calling from coordinator Jay Gruden is great, so is Dalton.
As Coley Harvey of ESPN illustrates, the offense was shockingly efficient en route to a major lead:
How efficient have #Bengals been? In 2 series, they have 9 first downs, 2-2 on 3rd down, 2-2 in red zone, 2-2 in goal line, 7.0 yds per play— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 27, 2013
Clearly on a roll courtesy of a great game plan, it's apparent much of Dalton's success also hinges on his confidence. Whereas he has struggled in the past with pocket presence and on deep throws, Dalton stood tall in collapsing pockets and delivered accurate strikes down the field consistently against the Jets.
Minus one horrific decision on an interception by a defensive lineman, Dalton was perfect once again. When he is, Cincinnati may be the most difficult team to beat in the NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals continue to impress.
The team has also notched a major road win with the victory over Detroit in Week 7. Perhaps most importantly, the young Bengals have shown they are not so young anymore by winning close games.
On Sunday the Bengals did what they were supposed to do and obliterated an inferior opponent with a winning record. Fans know that's not a normal occurrence, but it has to be a breath of fresh air.
The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the NFL's best teams. Sunday only furthered that notion. Now at 6-2 with a deep roster littered with talent, this is shaping up to be a very special year in the Queen City.
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