After a crucial victory against the Eagles, the Cincinnati Bengals now have 9 days to prepare for their biggest game yet.
The opportunistic Bengals defense pummeled Philadelphia's mistake-prone offense, forcing five turnovers en route to a 34-13 victory Thursday night. Andy Dalton threw for one touchdown & ran for another in what was a tightly contested game...until the end of the third quarter. Two plays after Dalton's go-ahead rushing touchdown, Wallace Gilberry returned a Nick Foles fumble 25 yards to give the Bengals an 11 point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
The Bengals (8-6) can clinch the last playoff spot in the AFC if they defeat Pittsburgh next week, combined with a Steelers loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia (4-10) has reached double digit losses for the first time since their Super Bowl hangover season in 2005. On a night where the defense was finally showing some signs of life, it was the Eagles offense that cost them the game. Five turnovers that left the Bengals in Philadelphia territory most of the game did them no favors. Cincinnati scored 31 of their 34 points off of Eagles turnovers.
Here are the Five Things We Learned Thursday Night in Philly:
1) The Bengals Are A Legitimate Contender
Although they beat up on a lowly Philadelphia team, Cincinnati proved that they can break a game open at any time with their defense as well as their offense. The Bengals defense ranks in the top 10 in both passing & rushing yards allowed. While Marvin Lewis' team is still relatively young, they seem poised to finally break away from Pittsburgh & Baltimore's shadow & make a name for themselves in the postseason.
2) Brandon Tate Likes To Return Punts From The One Yard Line
One of the Bengals blooper-worthy moments Thursday night came in the form of Brandon Tate. The former Patriot return man fielded a Mat McBriar punt from his own one yard line. While he managed to get to the 10, Tate still shorted himself of 10 yards on what should have been a touchback. The Bengals fumbled the ball back to Philly on the fifth play of that drive.
3) Andy Reid's Play-Calling Still Hasn't Changed
While I could probably declare this following any Eagles game for the past decade, something about tonight's game really brought the aggravation of a die-hard fan out of me. As a fan, it really says something about a coach's play-calling when I can predict almost every other play the entire game. Between the several screen passes to Jeremy Maclin, the shotgun draw plays to Bryce Brown that he still insists on running east-west instead of north-south, and my personal favorite, the shotgun shuffle pass to the running back on the goal line, it amazes me that Andy Reid still thinks these repetitive plays will amount to wins for his team.
4) Brandon Graham Is Ready To Resume His Role As A Starter
Graham has been patiently waiting for another shot as the Eagles starting defensive end since an ACL injury derailed his rookie momentum in 2010. The third year star from Michigan has four sacks in as many games since Philly parted way with Jason Babin. The rest of the D-line also seems to be thriving after the departure of Jim Washburn, as the Eagles recorded a season-high six sacks against the Bengals.
5) Jeremy Maclin's Days As An Eagle May Be Numbered
With Desean Jackson returning next season, Nick Foles establishing rapport with Riley Cooper and the sure-handed Jason Avant & Philly already owning a similar speedster in rookie Damaris Johnson, the Eagles may try to shop Jeremy Maclin just in time for next year's draft. The Eagles also need to replace Maclin with a physical receiver who's more than capable of going vertical for the ball. Although Maclin led Philadelphia with 73 receiving yards, his first quarter fumble did little to help his future stock as an Eagle.