Bengals The NFL’s Surprise Team

The Bengals jumped out to 6-3 record with a rookie QB and strong defense leading the way.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 at 11:30 am | Categories: 2011 Season Gameday, Garrett Downing, Week 11 vs Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals weren’t supposed to be here.

At the start of the season, the Bengals looked to be in disarray.

Their franchise quarterback of the last eight seasons retired – sort of – after a spat with team ownership. The organization’s all-time leading receiver left in the offseason. Their starting running back spent five days in prison on an assault charge just before the start of the season, the latest in the string of off-the-field problems.

And to lead the Bengals through all of that, they turned to a rookie quarterback who was drafted in the second-round, the fifth quarterback taken off the board.

Amidst the turmoil, all Cincinnati has done is put itself in a Week 11 game with first place in the AFC North on the line.

“We’re playing a really good football team Sunday,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week.

One of the reasons the Bengals are fighting for first place in the division after going 4-12 last season is the play of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who has thrown for more touchdowns (14) than any other rookie through his first nine games since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. If he continues his current pace, he will be a likely candidate for Rookie of the Year.

“Their quarterback is doing a great job at managing the offense,” Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s got good vision, he’s got good poise in the pocket. He’s mobile enough where he can get out of trouble.”

While Dalton and his fellow rookie, wide receiver A.J. Green, have been a big part of Cincinnati’s success, the defense has arguably been the most solid part of the team.

The Bengals are ranked fifth in the NFL in yards (304.2) and points (18.2) allowed per game. Only two teams, Pittsburgh and Denver, have scored more than 20 points on the Bengals this year.

“They’re playing excellent defense,” Harbaugh said. “They are a well-rounded football team. They’re doing all the things you need to do to win games.”

The Bengals won only four games last season, but one of them came against the Ravens, so the coaches know what Cincinnati is capable of doing.

 “They’re winning in the same way they played last year,” Harbaugh said. “They’re just doing it a little bit better in the sense that they’ve really protected the football. That’s probably the number one key.”

Critics question the legitimacy of the Bengals’ playoff potential because four of their wins have come against teams with a combined nine victories. But the Bengals have also beat Tennessee and Buffalo, which are both 5-4, and played close games with Pittsburgh and San Francisco. 

Harbaugh says the Bengals are a “young, confident, aggressive football team,” and the more football they play, the more they seem to belong in the AFC playoff picture.

“We’ve got our hands full,” Harbaugh said.

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