Bengals Top Browns, Move to 7-4

The Cincinnati Bengals took a big step towards a possible spot in the AFC playoffs with a 23-20 come-from-behind win over the visiting Cleveland Browns on Sunday. In fact, Mike Nugent’s game-winning 26-yard field goal with 41 seconds left – which was set up by a great 51-yard reception from rookie A.J. Green – was the first time the Bengals led all afternoon.

It marked the third time this season that the Bengals (7-4) have come back to win a game in which they trailed by 10 or more at halftime – which ties an all-time NFL record. They beat the Buffalo Bills 23-20 in a game they trailed 17-3 at halftime. They then defeated the Tennessee Titans 24-17 in a contest they trailed 17-7 at the half. Interestingly, 17-7 was also the halftime count against the Browns.

Now, with games against the Houston Texans – who are down to their third quarterback after the injury to Matt Leinart on Sunday – St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, the Bengals could get to 10 wins even if they lose their remaining games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (this coming Sunday) and the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals will be favored to win against the Texans, Rams and Cardinals, which doesn’t guarantee anything or even close, but I’m just pointing out that the schedule is not all that daunting down the stretch. And I think the Bengals will go 1-1 against the Steelers/Ravens the rest of the way, so even if they slip up during one of the games where they’re favored, they have a good chance to reach 10 wins.

I keep bringing up 10 wins because, like I blogged about last week, I think that’s what it will take in the AFC this year for the final wildcard team. Usually you say 11 to be safe, but chance are good the Bengals will get in with 10. Also, they are only one game behind the 8-3 Steelers and Ravens for first-place in the AFC North, so they still have a realistic shot at winning the division. It’s not likely, but it’s certainly possible.

Quick Hitters:

* I keep saying Geno Atkins is a “future Pro Bowler.” However, does “future” mean “later this season”? The second-year defensive tackle had another tremendous game on Sunday and leads the team with 6.5 sacks. He had a huge play in the fourth quarter against the Browns where he made a quick inside-out move and pushed quarterback Colt McCoy violently into the ground for a sack. Atkins is like a little-bit-smaller version of Warren Sapp … without the attitude.

* Green is a stud. The great ones make it look effortless at times and that’s exactly what Green is. He has excellent timing when he goes up for the ball and snatches nearly everything that comes his way. For the season, Green now has 44 receptions for 745 yards (16.9 yards per catch) and six touchdowns.

* If Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t putting up such gaudy stats, it would be a race between Green and Bengals QB Andy Dalton for NFL Rookie of the Year honors. (But either Green or Dalton will be AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year for sure.) I’m just blown away by Dalton’s poise. The guy is a winner in every sense of the word and now has passed for 2,509 yards (60.1 percent competion percentage) with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

* Running back Cedric Benson was very impressive against a sneaky-good Browns defense as he finished with 21 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown. Benson now has 740 rushing yards (3.9 yards per carry) and five touchdowns on the season.

* “Baby Hawk” – rookie wide receiver Andrew Hawkins – has already been more productive this season than older brother Artrell – a second-round pick by the Bengals in 1998 – was during his entire career. What a find Hawkins was after playing two seasons in the CFL. Every game he makes a big play and now has 16 receptions for 162 yards on the year.

* The Bengals clearly won the long-snapping battle against the Browns. *Laughs hysterically*

* Was good to see second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham get a TD reception after that completely bogus call last week against the Ravens.

* It’s impressive the defense is playing so well without second-year DE Carlos Dunlap (who could return as early as next week from injury). Course, the Bengals have perhaps the deepest D-line in the NFL. Speaking of which, hopefully the underrated Pat Sims is OK. Geoff Hobson from Bengals.com says the DT “appears to have a chance to play against the Steelers” and that’s good to hear. Sims has an ankle injury and it looked serious at first. Good to know that it likely isn’t.

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