Andy Dalton had a good day, AJ Green was on his game, and the defensive line was in the backfield all day. But it was the Cincinnati Bengals special teams units that put the team in position to win and ultimately put the game out of reach.
Mike Nugent continued to be Mr. Reliable yesterday despite less than ideal kicking conditions. Nugent booted field goals from 34 and 48 yards. The latter boot gave the Bengals a critical eight point lead after the Seahawks had just scored a touch down to draw within five. If Nugent misses there, the Seahawks take over in great field position with a chance to take the lead. Instead, Seattle was faced with the prospect of a long field an needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion just to tie the game. That affected their play calling as well as the aggressiveness with which the Bengal defense could operate. Nugent's kickoffs were also consistently long all day, making Seattle return specialist Leon Washington take the ball seven and eight yards deep every time.
On that note, the Bengals coverage teams did a great job bottling up Washington. A return man of his caliber can change field position and outcomes in an instant. When a return does that… well just ask the Seahawks defense which had to deal with a short field after Adam Jones great return in the first quarter. The Cincinnati kickoff and punt teams tackled well and kept Washington inside the 30 most of the day. Kevin Huber's 45.2 net punting average helped with that as well. An additional hats off to Huber's holding during kicks on a wet day. His sure hands ensured perfect placement for Nugent.
The return game's contributions are obvious. Jones' 63 yard punt return set up the Bengals' first touchdown and Brandon Tate's 56 yarder in the fourth quarter put the game away. With the Bengal offense being somewhat neutralized by a strong Seattle front seven, those two plays loomed large. Jones' return helped put the Bengals up 10-0 which took silenced a boisterous crowd early on. Tate's return put the nail in the coffin. Tate also had a big kickoff return following the Seattle touchdown that gave the Bengals great starting field position on a drive that would ultimately net a field goal.
So while Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden get the majority of the publicity for their defensive and offensive units, the Sunday's game belonged to Darrin Simmons' special teams guys. Their standout play put both other units in prime position to bring home a victory.
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