The Cincinnati Bengals didn't look like they meant business for the first 30 minutes against the St. Louis Rams. In the second half, the Rams got the business end of Cedric Benson as he carried Cincinnati to a 20-13 road victory and kept Cincinnati alive for the playoffs.
The Rams won the toss and elected to put brand new QB Kellen Clemens and the offense on the field first. They looked good early with RB Steven Jackson serving as the focal point of the Rams' attack. St. Louis moved the ball across midfield, but the Bengals' defense held there and forced a punt.
Andy Dalton and his receivers appeared on a different page early on. The Bengals had been stopped for a three and out but a penalty on the Rams for roughing the passer kept the drive alive. That enabled Dalton to hook up with AJ Green for 55 yards. Dalton clearly had overthrown Green but somehow Green put on an extra burst of speed to bring down the ball at the Rams two yard line. There the Bengals' red zone problems showed up again. Cedric Benson lost three yards as once again the Bengals' interior line allowed the defense into the backfield. AJ Green made two spectacular catches but was out of bounds on each. Mike Nugent knocked in the chip shot field goal and the Bengals led 3-0.
St. Louis returned for another drive into Bengals' territory aided by a roughing the passer call on Chris Crocker. The Bengals' front seven once again stiffened on a third and short, stopping Steven Jackson on a sweep. Josh Brown was wide right from 45 yards out and Cincinnati maintained its lead.
Dalton and Green once again got the ball into St. Louis territory. This time it was on a wide receiver screen that Green took for 30 yards down to the St. Louis 40. Cedric Benson took the ball into the red zone at the St. Louis 19 on a couple of strong runs as the first quarter expired. As if on cue, Mike McGlynn committed a penalty moving the Bengals back 10 yards. Andy Dalton then tried to squeeze one into a tight window and was picked off by Josh Gordy. Dalton made a touchdown saving tackle by undercutting Gordy at the Cincinnati 48.
The Bengals' defensive line was up to the task of the short field. After a couple of short Steven Jackson runs, Jonathan Fanene came through up the middle to record the first Cincinnati sack of the day.
After an exchange of three and outs, the Rams caught a break on special teams when Rams rookie Robert Quinn got a piece of a Kevin Huber punt. The Bengals got a good bounce out of it, but the Rams were set up for the second time in three series in Bengals territory, this time on the Cincinnati 39. Cadillac Williams powered the ball forward for nine yards on two carries. The Bengals had the Rams stopped again on third down but Adam Jones got called on a mysterious facemask penalty that the TV folks couldn't find. That put the ball at the Cincinnati 15. The Rams couldn't convert from there and Josh Brown on and hit a 26 yarder to tie the game at three apiece.
The Bengals offense was aided on the next drive by a questionable pass interference penalty on St. Louis that put the ball near midfield. AJ Green went down on the play clutching his right shoulder and went to the locker room at the two minute warning. Cedric Benson was stoned on third and fourth down just outside the Rams' 40 and the ball went over on downs.
St. Louis took advantage, quickly getting the ball into Cincinnati territory with their two minute drill. Adam Jones stopped Danario Alexander short of the first down, but Josh Brown connected from 43 yards to put the Rams up 6-3. That's how the first half ended.
It was a listless first half performance that saw the Bengals squander two more trips into the opponents' red zone. The interior line provided little protection for Dalton and no push for Cedric Benson who managed only 21 yards on 11 first half carries. Kellen Clemens managed the half well for the Rams, not turning the ball over, and Steven Jackson ran effectively if not explosively for 48 yards. Cincinnati hardly looked like a team trying to make the playoffs.
Cincinnati got the ball to start the second half and moved into St. Louis territory, finally converting a third down and getting a run of 13 yards by Cedric Benson. The Bengals got the ball down to the Rams 25 but once again the interior line couldn't give Benson enough room for the first down. Mike Nugent booted one through from 41 yards out and the game was tied 6-6.
Most of the rest of the third quarter saw the team's exchanging punts. Then Brandon Tate, the oft criticized Bengals' punt returner 56 yards. With a personal foul added on, the Bengals had the ball at the St. Louis 12. A Bernard Scott run and subsequent Rams penalty gave Cincinnati a first and goal inside the one. Bernard Scott dove in on second down and the Bengals led 13-6. It was the first Bengals red zone touchdown in their past eight opportunities.
The Rams were moving on their next drive when offensive lineman Harvey Dahl was called for holding. He then had some choice words for official Jerome Boger which earned the Rams another 10 yard penalty. That killed any hopes and forced another St. Louis punt.
The Bengals were back in Rams territory after a pair of Cedric Benson runs and a personal foul on the Rams. Benson took it inside the Rams 10 where the Rams were again whistled for a personal foul setting Cincinnati up at the five. Benson took it in around the left side on the next play and the Bengals were up 20-6.
The Rams added some excitement with a Clemens to Danario Alexander touchdown pass with 1:08 left to cut the lead to 20-13. Brandon Tate recovered the onside kick and Andy Dalton kneeled out the clock to send the Bengals to 8-6.
The key to Cincinnati's second half resurgence was Cedric Benson. Held to just over a yard per carry in the first half, Benson exploded for 55 yards on 11 carries in the second half. His touchdown was the game clincher.
The Bengals defense was stout all day, especially on third down. They surrendered over 300 yards, most of it on two drives after the Bengals had taken a 14 point fourth quarter lead. The key for the defense was to get the Rams off the field. They did that, holding St. Louis to only two of 13 on third downs.
Cincinnati came to St. Louis and took care of business, something the Tennessee Titans couldn't do in Indianapolis. That assures that the Bengals will return home to play meaningful football games at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Arizona Cardinals come calling next week. Marvin Lewis and the Bengals need to have their business cards ready to distribute.
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