. Get used to it With 6:58 remaining in the third quarter
, Joe Mixon snuck behind C.J. Uzomah for an eight-yard gain. It was significant for a number of reasons. The most prominent being: It was the longest gain of the afternoon for Mixon;It was the first positive sign of a rejuvenation effort, with the Bengals losing 17-0 and appearing lifeless in their defeated effort.After a minimal one-yard gain on the ensuing play (bouncing outside), Andy Dalton was sacked for a 10-yard loss — in fairness to the veteran quarterback, he expertly avoided Charles Harris’ stunt (why aren’t you sliding back, Trey Hopkins?), he ws dropped by a blitzing Jerome Baker (after shuffling away from Bobby Hart).Granted, Mixon’s eight-yard gain didn’t add much to Cincinnati’s narrative on Sunday, but it was the first leap toward an amazing momentum shift that would lead to Cincinnati’s eventual victory.Consider that when Cincinnati defeatedly jogged into the locker room at half-time, Mixon had only generated 19 yards rushing on 10 carries. Poor offensive line production was a fraction of the problem, but Dolphins defensive coordinator, and former Bengals linebackers coach, Matt Burke
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, often stacked the box (and blitzed the hell out of Dalton). It took time for Cincinnati to adjust.“Sometimes teams are going to put eight people in the box, but at the same time, you have to work on it,” Mixon said after the game. “The receivers will open the run game and we will open up the pass for them.”Truth.The symbiotic relationship between the running game and passing game began to bear fruit. On Cincinnati’s ensuing possession, with 3:24 remaining in the third, Dalton connected with A.J. Green for 21 yards and Tyler Boyd for seven, setting up an first down from Miami’s 28-yard line. Dalton handed off to a hard-charging Mixon who glided behind Clint Boling’s monster block on Vincent Taylor. There there was the double-team effort by Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond, while Cordy Glenn’s predator-like approach ascended into the second level. The resulting 12-yard run put Cincinnati at Miami’s 16-yard line. Two plays later, Mixon hauled in Dalton’s floater on the first play of the fourth quarter. Once Mixon hauled the football, he redirected around linebacker Kiko Alonzo, and leaned into the endzone for the touchdown.“Third and fourth quarter is when everything shifted and we got the job done,” said Mixon. Mixon
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, out the last two weeks with a knee injury, ran the football 12 times in the second half and generated 74 yards rushing. Of those 74 yards, 53 came in the fourth quarter. Mixon powered through for 11 yards with 7:27 remaining in the fourth, and bounced for 31, eventually setting up Randy Bullock’s game-leading field goal with 3:33 remaining.Cincinnati didn’t look back, completing their second comeback in as many weeks. “The way you guys have won games the last two weeks, how exciting is it? It’s great,” said Mixon. “We are just looking forward to putting (a game) all the way together, all four quarters. We are either scoring every drive or stopping them every drive, whatever we have to do to be successful. The vibe over here is crazy, and I can’t do anything but be proud of my teammates and coaches. They do a great job of preparing us all week. The players have to come out here and execute. We got off to a slow start today, but we finished.”That’s all that matters.The Bengals have a special teams problem Elements from the Bengals’ special teams have been showing signs of strain recently. Opposing teams are gaining decent yardage on kickoff returns; blown coverage on a punt return has already led to a touchdown; there have been multiple blocks in the kicking game. Special teams isn’t as sexy strutting on the catwalk like a scoring defense
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, a comeback-fueling running back, or a milestone-achieving future Hall of Fame wide receiver. You don’t need me to explain why special teams is a significant contributor for victories or landslide defeats — you’re smart football folks. It just is. However, what we’re seeing right now is an unfavorable trend with Darrin Simmons’ crew. Atlanta’s Marvin Hall returned a kickoff 53 yards, placing the Falcons at midfield. Eight plays later, Atlanta took an early 7-0 lead. Granted, special teams gave Atlanta advantageous field position; the defense struggled all game too. Hall added a 33-yarder later in the same quarter. Keith Tandy blocked a Kevin Huber punt against Atlanta, giving the Falcons starting position on the Bengals’ eight-yard line — Cincinnati’s defense held, forcing Atlanta into a field goal. Randy Bullock missed a 53-yarder against Carolina—perhaps this is one example that should be scratched out—he’s known more for accuracy than distance, though he did boom a 51-yarder against Miami on Sunday. Cincinnati’s unfortunate special teams trend continued during the second quarter against Miami: Vincent Taylor blocked a field goal, Miami’s Jakeem Grant returned a punt 70 yards giving Miami a 14-0 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the first half. Let’s start with the blocked field goal. With 3:58 remaining in the second quarter, Randy Bullock readies for a 37-yarder to crack a troublesome goose egg on the scoreboard. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, two powerlifting bulldozers
, collide into each of Alex Redmond’s shoulders. Unable to weather the onslaught, Redmond gave ground. Vincent angled inside Redmond’s shoulder and extended his arm. Bullock’s kick smacked Taylor’s extended hand, with the football harmlessly falling back to Earth.Fast-forward to the 40 second mark in the second quarter. Huber takes the snap and angles the 50-yard punt just beyond the 30-yard line. Jakeem Grant bolts up-field and bounces around the right edge. A pursuing Kevin Huber had no shot and Cody Core narrowly missed pushing Grant out of bounds right at the end zone. Touchdown.“It was great blocking — great blocking from the return team,” Grant said after the game. “All the credit goes to them. They’re the reason I scored. I just hit the hole.”In fairness to everyone, Grant is one the league’s top return-men and one of three players with a punt return for touchdown. By this point, the Dolphins had a 14-0 lead — a 10-point swing that, had special teams converted the field goal and held Grant from scoring, should have been a 7-3 Dolphins lead. Thankfully the Bengals’ fourth quarter charge negated declining special teams production, and rendered post-game comments mute on the subject — it’s better to celebrate on Sunday and then become critical on Monday.
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