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Young Bengals poised for a rare repeat of success

Published: Saturday, September 08, 2012 @ 5:17 PM
Updated: Saturday, September 08, 2012 @ 11:24 PM

The Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2012 season with a chance to erase what has become a 30-year stain.

That’s how long it’s been since the franchise has been able to string together back-to-back winning seasons. It’s been so long, in fact, that only six players on the current 53-man roster were even born when the Bengals followed up their 1981 Super Bowl season with a 7-2 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.

After going 9-7 and earning a wild-card berth last year, this will be the third time in Marvin Lewis’ 10-year tenure as coach that the Bengals have had a chance to put together back-to-back winning seasons.

The 2005 team went 11-5 and won the AFC North, only to slip to 8-8 in 2006. Another AFC North title came with a 10-6 mark in 2009, but the Bengals followed that with a 4-12 mark in 2010, equaling the largest drop in wins from one year to the next in franchise history.

One thing Lewis learned from 2006 and 2010 is that continuity on the roster doesn’t guarantee a repeat of success. Despite the success and youth that were present last year, there are 15 new faces on this year’s 53-man roster as the team heads to Baltimore for its nationally televised season opener Monday night.

“That’s a good thing,” Lewis said of the turnover. “We’ve talked about that many times. We have to continue to strive to get better. I don’t know what the comparison is to 2010 and ’06 , but I hope it is more this year, because those years didn’t work out.

“We didn’t have anything to rest on and knew that we had to get better,” Lewis continued. “Our other teams in the division got better, and we needed to also.”

In addition to nine rookies, the Bengals brought in veteran cornerbacks with playoff experience in Jason Allen (Houston) and Terence Newman (Dallas). They also signed running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who never played on a losing team in four seasons with New England, and defensive end Jamaal Anderson, who played on three consecutive winning teams in Atlanta from 2008-10.

“Before I was there, they hadn’t had back-to-back winning seasons in Atlanta for a long time prior to our success,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely a mindset. We knew what he had accomplished the year before, but it was never where we wanted to finish. In this league, you can’t ever be satisfied with how things went the year before.”

In addition to the new faces, the Bengals return a solid group of rising stars in second-year quarterback Andy Dalton, second-year wide receiver A.J. Green and third-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, all of whom made the Pro Bowl last year.

A key for the passing game will be to take some defensive pressure off Green, who was limited to nine catches for 98 yards in the final three games last year. Two ways to reduce the attention is to move Green around in the formations as much as possible, and to have one, or more, of the other receivers consistently make plays.

Brandon Tate and Armon Binns have made plays in limited snaps during the preseason, and rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have showed the potential to become threats as they mature. Also back is slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, an undrafted second-year player who showed the ability to make tough, drive-extending catches on third down last year.

“I think everybody recognizes A.J.’s talent, so there might be times where they try to double-team him and make other guys make plays,” Dalton said. “But we’ve got guys that can make those plays. Guys have to take advantage of it when they get their one-on-ones. We’ve got to complete those balls and make plays.”

The biggest question on offense is the line with a rookie right guard in Kevin Zeitler and a second-year left guard in Clint Boling who has made just three starts. Center Jeff Faine is a 10-year veteran, but he just joined the team 10 days ago after starter Kyle Cook suffered an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a seven-year vet who has started a team-best 50 consecutive games, and right tackle Andre Smith, who started 14 games in 2011, is starting to show some of the promise that led the Bengals to select him with the sixth overall pick in 2009.

Defensively, the Bengals should be solid again after ranking seventh in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game.

The unit is led by tackle Geno Atkins, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which his 7.5 sacks were tied for the most in the NFL among interior lineman, and veteran tackle Domata Peko.

Left defensive ends Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap missed most of the preseason with knee injuries, but Geathers is expected to be ready for the start of the season, with Dunlap returning soon after. Michael Johnson will start at right defensive end, with Anderson backing him up.

Rookie tackles Brandon Thompson and Devon Still will round out defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s eight-man rotation up front.

“Our plan is to get better than last year,” Peko said. “We were No. 1 for a number of weeks, but we didn’t finish as strong as we started. Our goal this year is to be the No. 1 defense at the end of the day.”

The Bengals also return all three starting linebackers in Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga. Undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict has shown great potential and while he may not be ready to push Maualuga for a starting spot, he should be a big contributor on special teams.

In the secondary, cornerback Leon Hall appears fully healed from the season-ending Achilles injury he suffered in November. Twelve-year veteran Nate Clements will start at the other corner, with Allen and Newman adding the coverage in nickel packages. Rookie first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has been injured most of the preseason, but the Bengals are still hopeful he can be ready to return to practice in a few weeks.

Strong safety Taylor Mays has had a solid preseason and should be a good complement to free safety Reggie Nelson.

If the Bengals are going to string together back-to-back winning seasons, they are going to have to do it against a much more difficult schedule than 2011.

In addition to four divisional games against playoff qualifiers Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Cincinnati also will face Denver, Dallas, San Diego, Philadelphia and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

“We know the task at hand and the grind we are about to head into and all the challenges the season will throw in front of us,” Lewis said. “I think we got better at receiver. I know we’ve gotten better in the back end on defense. We haven’t gotten an experience to see as much of it yet, but on the defensive line too. We’ve improved the interior of the defense at linebacker with (Vontaze) Burfict. At safety, there’s no doubt we got better there.

“The guys are in a good place, a good state of mind with the excitement and anticipation of the season, which is where we ought to be.”

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has been suspended

Published: Friday, October 20, 2017 @ 7:55 PM

The NFL has suspended Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for one game.

Lynch was ejected in the first half of the Raiders’ dramatic 31-30 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. He made contact with an official during a skirmish on the field.

In the NFL’s official statement, vice president of football operations Jon Runyan’s letter to Lynch was included. Of course a great deal of it has to do with him making contact with an official which is a cardinal sin in the NFL. However, the final sentence also gave some insight into the league’s decision making.

“You were the only player from either team who ran from the sideline to midfield to insert himself into a situation in which he was not directly involved,” Runyan said in the letter, via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Runyan didn’t say anything that was false. The Raiders were upset after Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters made contact with quarterback Derek Carr after he already down. Peters was flagged on that play.

Once the altercation started, Lynch sprinted onto the field from the sideline, and removed Peters from it. In the process, Lynch also removed a referee from his path.

WR Antonio Brown knows the Steelers can take their play up a notch

Published: Friday, October 20, 2017 @ 7:40 PM

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown knows that even after a huge win, there is still room for improvement.

At the time of the Steelers’ last game, the Kansas City Chiefs were the only undefeated team in the NFL. They went on the road to defeat the Chiefs 19-13, but Brown is not going to get complacent.

“We haven’t put our best performance out there,” Brown said, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Each week we getting little better, and I think we’ll continue to get a little better, and see more big plays.”

Brown has been outstanding through six games, with 48 receptions for 700 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, the Steelers’ offense as a unit has not been nearly as productive. They have yet to score 30 points in 2017, and haven’t reached 20 points in consecutive weeks.

Their much improved defense has been a pleasant surprise, and has them still among the elite teams in the NFL. Also, the AFC North is down this season, which will give them a boost as the season goes on.

However, in a season where there is no dominant team, in order for the Steelers to have the best chance at a Super Bowl, their offense will have to produce more big plays.

Vikings LB Anthony Barr fined, but not for hit on Aaron Rodgers

Published: Friday, October 20, 2017 @ 6:40 PM

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr has been fined, but it wasn’t for his hit that likely ended Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ season.

Barr was fined slightly more than $9,000 for the 15-yard penalty that he received for head butting Packers wide receiver DaVante Adams, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson.

In the days following the hit, Barr has been adamant that he is not a dirty player, and that he was not trying to injure Rodgers.

The play has a certain perception for a couple of reasons. For one, a great deal of contact has been legislated out of football, so what once looked like a good hard football play, can now be perceived as crossing a line.

Also, Barr knocked out one of the marquee players in the NFL. There is not a list of top NFL players that can be made that doesn’t include Rodgers. He is a quarterback who makes plays that few, if any, others are capable of making, and he makes those plays on one of the most popular teams in the league.

Add in the State Farm commercials and game-show appearances, Rodgers is one of the most recognizable faces in professional sports.

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee and LT Tyron Smith will play against 49ers,

Published: Friday, October 20, 2017 @ 5:55 PM

The Dallas Cowboys will go into their Week 7 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers with linebacker Sean Lee healthy for the first time since their Monday Night Football victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

A hamstring injury has kept him out of their last two games, but after a bye week Lee is ready to play. Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith missed Wednesday’s practice with a back injury, but has participated the last two days and also will play, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota.

However Cowboys’ writer Rob Phillips tweeted out that cornerback Chidobe Awuzie will miss his third game of the season with a hamstring injury. He aggravated it during the Cowboys’ last game before their bye week, and has not practiced leading up to the game against the 49ers.

If there is a team in the NFL that needs a victory in Week 7, it’s the Cowboys. They lost two tough games at home before their bye week.

They were down 35-30 and ended up losing to the Rams after quarterback Dak Prescott completed a fourth-down pass short of the first-down marker with 27 seconds remaining.

The following week, the Cowboys lost on a game-winning touchdown pass from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Cowboys have games coming up against the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. At 2-3, this game against the 49ers is almost a must win.