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It is late November and teams around the NFL are starting to wind down their hitting in practices to keep their players fresh. But the Cincinnati Bengals practiced in pads on Thursday leading up to Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.
“That’s really sending the message to our group that we were going to be physical and play physical,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Sunday afternoon. “We’ve got the right guys who understand this is a big man’s league and you have to step up late in the year and stop the run and win the line of scrimmage.”
The Bengals did exactly that against the one of the NFL’s most physical teams and the result told the story.
Burrow And Bengals Make The Plays
“This is the kind of game that great teams win,” said quarterback Joe Burrow, who was good in throwing 1 TD pass and not making mistakes.
“One thing this team took to heart is how physical this game was going to be,” Taylor said. “And that’s a credit to Tennessee because that’s how they play but our guys answered the bell today.”
The Titans can’t blame this loss on Ryan Tannehill. They can’t blame it on Burrow being simply better than their guy.
Can’t blame it on anything except, well, the Bengals robbed Tennessee of their personality. And physical nature. And played Titans ball better than the Titans.
The Titans pride themselves on being a physical football team. The Bengals were more physical on Sunday.
“To hold their lead back to 2.2 yards per carry and 38 yards, for our offense to rush over 100 yards and step up and make one-on-one plays,” Taylor said. “… I thought that was tremendous team effort and really proud of these guys.”
The “lead back” Taylor was talking about is Derrick Henry who is arguably the NFL’s most dominant running back the past three or four seasons. Henry did indeed finish with 38 yards on 17 carries.
“Our defense has played physical every single game we’ve played this year. They know that. They have confidence in that. The narrative can be whatever it needs to be all week but our guys don’t need any of that. They show up on Sunday and play ball.
“It’s one of the best defenses in the league.”
Titans Didn’t Deliver
This game was a referendum on much of what the Bengals can do and are about to do the rest of this season.
They gave up nine sacks in beating the Titans in the playoffs last season. They allowed one sack this game.
The Bengals played without starting running back Joe Mixon or No. 1 receiver Ja’Marr Chase. It didn’t ultimately matter.
“It’s great to get a win like this,” Burrow said. “This is how they all were kind of down the stretch last year … We made the plays in the fourth quarter to go and win the game.”
The Titans pride themselves on running the football. The Bengals ran the football to the tune of 108 yards compared to 63 for Tennessee.
“We ran the ball against a team that hasn’t really given up rushing yards all year,” Burrow said. “That’s a credit to the offensive line being physical, strong and understanding the scheme…”
And then there was the game’s biggest mental mistake: It was made by the Titans in the final 2 minutes.
The mistake was made by Titans backup defensive tackle Kevin Strong who was called for unnecessary roughness with 1:57 to play.
The penalty, which the Bengals accepted, erased a field goal that gave them a 23-16 lead. But in doing so the Bengals got the ball back with 1:53 to play and the Titans out of time outs.
So three kneel-down plays got the Bengals to their fifth win in six games.
Bengals Face Tough Schedule Ahead
And that leaves the Bengals feeling some kind of way, according to Burrow.
“It’s December now,” he said. “It’s when football counts. We’re 7-4 and we’re in a great spot. We’re really happy with our continued improvement throughout the season but now it’s time to show what kind of championship mettle we have with the coming schedule.
“I know we’ll be ready for it.”
The Bengals have Kansas City next week, with the Buccaneers, Patriots, Bills and Ravens after that.
“We got a bigtime schedule coming up,” Burrow said. “Big game this week against a team we know well and played in the past. The schedule is obviously tough but this is what it takes in December and January to go and win one.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero