Passing Game Lifts Bengals Over Browns

Samantha Bunten, CineSport—The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns 34-27. CineSport's Tara Petrolino and The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy discuss the win, the Bengals pass game and injuries facing the defense.

When the season began, the AFC North looked like a division that might produce multiple playoff teams: Four of them if you live in Cleveland, three if you live in reality.

But desperate Dawg-Pound dreams aside, the North looked like a place from which as many as three AFC playoff teams might hail.

Rumors of Baltimore’s aging defense looked unwarranted after a dominating Week 1 performance in their win over the Bengals, and then possibly very valid after a heartbreaking loss to the Eagles in Week 2. Their offense has been surprisingly productive for two weeks in a row.

It’s also worth noting that while we know that for NFL teams and their fans, “bad” calls are in the eye of the beholder, there were some serious questions surrounding holding calls in the Ravens’ loss to the Eagles today.

Cincinnati still looks, on one hand, like one of those teams that can find a way to screw up any advantage they gain, and on the other like a team loaded with potential that is itching to break out and show that these Bengals have finally earned their stripes.

And though they are older and probably weaker than they have been in recent years, you can certainly never count out the Steelers.

Indeed, it seems the toughest part of achieving a playoff-worthy record for the three AFC North powerhouses is the fact that they are stuck playing each other so often.

It could cost the weakest of the three a playoff spot that they might be able to grab were they in a less competitive division with multiple opponents tossing a couple of gimme wins their way during the season.

It’s premature to make playoff predictions two weeks into the season, but at the moment, Baltimore looks like the front-runner to take the North crown, though the picture is admittedly murky with no team in the division boasting a perfect record to date.

But can either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati grab one or even two of the AFC wild-card spots? Or upset front-runner Baltimore for the division crown? Or could they both manage to miss the playoff boat entirely?

For now, either one looks as though they could either implode or explode in 2012. Pittsburgh is showing its age, but also the Steel Town tenacity that has been its calling card for decades.

Cincinnati looks at times sloppy, addled and mistake-prone, yet they also appear to be brimming with the kind of talent that, when it all clicks at just the right time, is difficult to stop.

This week’s contest with the beleaguered Browns does little to argue either for or against the Bengals’ potential. Allowing an opponent to score 27 points doesn’t say anything positive about your defense in general, and says even less when normally, the opponent’s offense couldn’t find the end zone if led there by the hand.

But the Browns, troubled as they may be in a larger sense, have played well defensively of late, particularly against the pass. Thus the 34 points the Bengals put on the board against the Dawg Defense speak to notable offensive prowess.

The game was much closer than it appeared if you take away the special teams buffoonery the Browns displayed that allowed Adam Jones to return a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. Still, the Bengals’ offense produced three passing touchdowns and moved the ball efficiently for most of the game against a solid defense.

If this game felt too close for comfort for some Cincinnati fans, the blame certainly can’t be placed on Dalton and his offensive teammates.

The bigger concern is that Cincinnati gave up 27 points to an offense that, only a week ago, looked wholly incompetent against Philadelphia. This may say more about the Browns than the Bengals in that perhaps, much to the relief of long-suffering Cleveland fans, they aren’t as bad as they appeared to be in Week 1.

But Cincinnati still has to look closely at the fact that they gave up over 100 yards to a rookie running back and made a quarterback who looked disastrous a week ago look pretty darn good this week.

The Cincinnati defense has now dished out a hefty helping of points to divisional opponents two weeks in a row. A win is a win, certainly, but those ugly ones get tougher and tougher to land on the right side of as the season progresses.

Whether the Bengals accomplishments here (or their failures last week against a tough Baltimore team) have any meaning in terms of whether we can expect them to be in the playoff hunt come December remains to be seen. But Pittsburgh, Baltimore and other would-be AFC wild-card spot contenders would do well to remember that you should never turn your back on a hungry tiger.

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