Maybe it's that the Bengals like torturing teams from the NFC East. Maybe it's that the Bengals like torturing their fans, tantalizing us with a win here and there and trying to lull us into continued complacency. Maybe a little of both.
The Bengals (2-11-1) played competently on both sides of the ball today, competently enough to hand the Redskins (7-7) a 20-13 loss at Paul Brown Stadium and deal probably irreparable damage to the Redskins' already-slim playoff hopes. The Bengals scored on their first possession of the game, a rarity for them, and stayed in control, more or less for the rest of the game. It got a little dicey late in the fourth quarter, after special teams gave up an 87-yard kickoff return to Rock Cartwright, which would have been a touchdown if not for a Leon Hall tackle to stop him. The score at the time was 20-10, and the Bengals held the Redskins to a field goal on the possession to seal the win. This was Hall's most important contribution of the day, as he was overmatched covering Santana Moss, who had seven catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Guys who haven't shown up for the Bengals recently played today like they actually cared. Chad Ocho Cinco had three catches for 33 yards and looked fired up, though there were a couple of lapses where it looked like he and Ryan Fitzpatrick were not on the same page in the playbook. Chris Henry, who earlier this season I blogged had outlived his usefulness, had four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. I'm still not sold he belongs on this team, but he showed his best stuff today. T.J. Houshmandzadeh had three catches for 19 yards, a down day for him, but his total catches for the year now stand at 92, putting him eight away from a second consecutive 100-catch season, with two games left to play.
Ryan Fitzpatrick outplayed Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell in this game. Fitz was 16 of 29 for 209 yards and the TD to Chris Henry, with a perfect toss on a beautiful fade route to the corner of the end zone. Fitz also had 11 carries for 29 yards and a rushing TD on the team's first possession. The offensive star of the day for the Bengals was Cedric Benson, who had 21 carries for 73 yards and three receptions for 88 yards. Benson did not score, but he chewed up yards and he chewed up clock. The offensive line, though they allowed two sacks on Fitz, played well today, allowing Fitz time to make good passes and allowing Benson to find some running room. Shayne Graham also notched two fields goals for the offense.
The Redskins did not play like a team fighting to stay in playoff contention. Campbell was 17-of-28 for 167 yards and the touchdown to Santana Moss. Clinton Portis had 25 carries for 77 yards, with Campbell next behind him with two carries for 21 yards. Tight end Chris Cooley had six catches for 51 yards. Shaun Suisham also kicked two field goals for the Redskins.
The Bengals defense played well today, as they have for about three quarters of almost every game this year, and the offense got enough done to allow the D some time to rest during the game, a luxury they almost never have. The Orange & Black had a reasonably complete effort on both sides of the ball.
Perhaps the pressure of trying to recover from going 1-4 after a 6-2 start got to the Redskins. Perhaps the behind-the-scenes troubles between Portis and head coach Jim Zorn were playing out on the field today. This loss likely puts the Redskins out of playoff contention, but we'll wait 'til the end of the day to see where they will stand.
For the Bengals, another win is good, but not great. Hopefully, this will not be the "gloss" that Mr. Brown was waiting to see to reassure him that he is still smart enough or savvy enough to stay in control of the on-the-field product. Bengals' fans are not happy, and this was reflected in the fact that tickets for the game were on StubHub this week for less than $20.
Next up for the Bengals, they head to Cleveland to finish out this year's conference schedule. I look for another intense edition of the Browns versus Bengals rivalry. After that, the Bengals wrap the season against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium. Then, it's on to the draft!