November 16, 2009
Bengals claw out winNow in Bowl conversation
By KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA
Nobody ever won a Super Bowl in November but it's never too early to put yourself in the conversation.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been trying to get the word out all season long and maybe now some folks will start listening.
Yesterday they walked into Heinz Field as a seven-point underdog and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at their own punishing game. With their 18-12 win, Cincinnati is in total command of the AFC North while snapping Pittsburgh's 10-game home winning streak.
In a division that produced the two teams who battled for the AFC Championship last year -- Pittsburgh and Baltimore -- the Bengals are in first place with what amounts to a two-game lead because they have swept both the Steelers and Ravens this season.
In a defensive struggle that produced eight field goals -- four on each side -- the difference was a 96-yard kickoff return by Bernard Scott in the first quarter. Pittsburgh has now given up either a kickoff, punt, interception or fumble return for touchdown in each of its past seven games.
"That's probably the most grinding football game I've ever experienced," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Neither team was able to generate much offensive yardage as the defences were particularly dominant on third downs. Pittsburgh and QB Ben Roethlisberger converted only three of 15 third downs and were completely blanked on their final 10 third-down plays. The Bengals and Carson Palmer weren't much more effective, converting four of 14 third downs.
"They're clearly the best team in the division," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. "I'd give my left arm to play them again."
While this was the last scheduled meeting between these two teams, it wouldn't be a big surprise if there is one more confrontation sometime in January.
Remember that 6-0 start by the Denver Broncos that had their critics eating crow? No? Neither do they.
With three consecutive losses, including yesterday's 27-17 embarrassment at the hands of the unimpressive Washington Redskins, all those pre-season predictions of disaster for the Broncos may not have been so far off after all.
Three weeks ago, the Broncos were 3 1/2 games ahead of the Chargers in the AFC West. Now they are tied. The Chargers took care of that by beating the confusing and confused Philadelphia Eagles 31-23.
The Broncos had to know this wasn't going to be their day when the Redskins telegraphed their intent to run a fake field goal on a fourth-and-20 play from the 35 yard line, yet ran it successfully anyway.
With Denver leading 14-7 midway through the second quarter, the Redskins went into field goal formation but when tight end Todd Yoder split off as a receiver, they called time out. Despite having tipped the play, the Redskins ran it anyway and the Broncos fell for it. Punter Hunter Smith, the field goal holder, threw a 35-yard TD to fullback Mike Sellers.
Still, the Broncos took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, then surrendered 13 unanswered points.
When Denver beat the Chargers on Oct. 19, it was a turning point for both teams, though not in the way the Broncos thought at the time.
Since then, Denver has not won and San Diego has not lost, setting up a something-has-gotta-give confrontation between the teams on Sunday.
The New Orleans Saints are still unbeaten but they can't be happy about their sloppy 28-23 decision over the St. Louis Rams, who could have won it on the last play of the game. Saints turned the ball over three times and now have turned it over 13 times in the past four games ... And just when you thought the Packers were finished, the Dallas Cowboys came to town and played dead. The Dallas defence, which had expected to feast on the depleted Green Bay O-line, could not get enough crucial stops, failing on seven of 15 third downs. Tony Romo's offence couldn't get it done either, converting just three of 12 third downs.