Opportunistic Bengals storm back for a critical win in Philadelphia
Leon Hall did not have to do much besides turn and wait for Nick Foles' painfully underthrown pass to land in his hands. It was as uncomplicated an interception as you'll see, and yet it may go down as one of the most important plays during this Cincinnati Bengals season.
Up until that point, about nine minutes into the third quarter of Cincinnati's 34-13 win over Philadelphia Thursday night, it was hard to distinguish the team fighting for a playoff spot from the one spiraling toward a potential coaching change this offseason.
The Bengals grabbed a 10-0 lead early, but the Eagles stormed back to take a 13-10 halftime edge and had flipped field position in their favor to start the third quarter.
Then, Hall's play changed everything.
Over the next eight minutes, the Eagles coughed the ball up three more times, Cincinnati tossed 24 points on the board and that was all she wrote.
"We came out kind of flat; we jumped out to a big lead and got ahead of ourselves," Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis told the NFL Network. "In the second half, we buckled down and played ball."
The Bengals badly needed a win in Philadelphia, just four days after letting one slip away against Dallas.
That Week 14 setback kept the Bengals outside of playoff positioning in the AFC, behind division rival Pittsburgh. Thursday night's come-from-behind win, no matter how it came about, keeps Cincinnati in control of its own destiny -- beat the Steelers in Week 16 and the Ravens in Week 17, and the Bengals will be in the playoffs, possibly as AFC North champions.
Cincinnati started well, forcing the first of five Eagles' turnovers on the game's second snap and cashing it in for a Green-Ellis touchdown. A blocked punt four plays later set up a Josh Brown field goal.
At that point, it looked for all the world like the Bengals would coast to a blowout victory.
It took Cincinnati until Hall's interception to right the ship again. Andy Dalton turned that key play into six points, shooting up the middle on an 11-yard touchdown scramble, which gave Cincinnati the lead again -- this time, for good.
"We just weren't clicking on all cylinders," said Dalton of Cincinnati's second-quarter drought. "We started off fast, we got great field position, we scored on our first two drives and then we kind of just came to a halt.
"You stay the course of the game ... that's why you play four quarters."
Once Dalton put the Bengals back on top, their defense tightened the vise on Foles and the Eagles. A mere 49 seconds after Dalton's rushing TD, defensive end Wallace Gilberry scooped up a Bryce Brown fumble and took it to the house.
By the time Philadelphia even ran another play successfully, the Bengals led by 21, a spurt capped off by a touchdown pass from Dalton to A.J. Green.
"All we can control is right now," said Green of the now 8-6 Bengals. "That's the biggest thing we're doing is getting better each week. We keep making the plays, our defense keeps playing, we can take a shot at this thing."
Philadelphia's implosion, both Thursday night and this season, has been difficult to watch at times. The Eagles finally showed some life last Sunday in a last-second win over Tampa Bay, then appeared headed for another upset in this one.
As has been the case so often, though, the wheels fell off in a hurry.
They won't receive any sympathy from Cincinnati, not with the Bengals fighting for their postseason lives. And certainly not after Cincinnati fell apart against the Cowboys, a multitude of dropped passes and late defensive breakdowns leading to a one-point loss.
"We definitely had our chances last week," Dalton said, "and if we could've pulled out a win in that one, it could've helped us out.
"Fortunately, nothing changed in the playoff race, we still control our destiny and these next two are important."
The Bengals may not get quite as much help in Weeks 16 and 17 -- neither the Steelers nor the Ravens, both in need of wins themselves, figure to come unglued as Philadelphia did Thursday night. Cincinnati, however, probably figures it can avoid the mid-game trap it fell into against Philadelphia.
But this one could have turned out much, much worse for Cincinnati. That hot start aside, the Bengals looked the part of a team ready to toss away an opportunity. That is, until Hall nabbed Foles' errant throw and changed the complexion of the entire game -- and, possibly, Cincinnati's season.