Raiders at Bengals, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS (pending sellout), 102.7, 104.7, 700
For some players, leading the team in tackles while forcing two fumbles and recording a sack and a pass defensed would constitute one their best games of the year.
But for Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, it was worthy of little more than a shrug.
“It was just like any other game,” Atkins said. “You just get out there and try to do what you can do.”
The sack was his eighth of the year, tying him with Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson for the Bengals single-season record by an interior lineman. It also moved Atkins ahead of defensive end Michael Johnson for the team lead this season.
The sack and both of his forced fumbles came on the same series, just four plays apart, with the second strip ending up in the arms of linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the only turnover of the game last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I know he had a great game, but he’s been doing it all year,” Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. “He’s great. He perfects his craft every day in practice, and he’s a heck of a person beyond football. The kid can play.”
Many of Atkins’ numbers are ahead of what they were at this point last year when he was on his way to his first Pro Bowl in his second NFL season.
“He’s getting better because he hasn’t changed the approach he brought he brought with him with he came in trying to prove himself,” defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. “He still plays 150 miles per hour, and he’s still in the playbook.”
With 2.5 more sacks than he had after 11 games in 2011, 10 more solo tackles and three more forced fumbles, Atkins recently was a unanimous pick for the Midseason All-Pro team by the editors of Pro Football Weekly, along with teammate A.J. Green.
Only six of the 28 players selected were unanimous picks.
“I feel like each year I’ve gotten better with learning and getting adjusted to the speed of the game and just basically knowing the passer’s strength and what the offense is trying to do to our defense and how to basically use that to our advantage,” Atkins said.
He emphasized the learning part and said he took head coach Marvin Lewis’ advice last year and used his trip to the Pro Bowl as more of an education experience than a vacation.
And one of the players Atkins turned to for advice will be on the opposite sideline Sunday when the Oakland Raiders come to Paul Brown Stadium.
“I talked to Richard Seymour and saw how he did things and what he did to excel at a high level in the league,” Atkins said. “He taught me some fundamental stuff – taking notes and basically investing in your body and stuff like that.”
Atkins needs five more sacks to tie Eddie Edwards for the single-season franchise record of 13, and he’s a big reason why this year’s team in on pace to tie the single-season team mark of 48, which was set in 2001.
Somewhat lost in the midst of Carson Palmer making his return to Cincinnati this week is the fact that Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson also gets to face his former team.
Jackson was the Raiders head coach in 2011 and offensive coordinator in 2010, and he was largely responsible for the trade that brought Palmer to Oakland for a pair of draft picks.
Fired despite going 8-8 and tying for first in the AFC West last year, Jackson reunited with head coach Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, where he was an assistant coach from 2004-06.
“He’s been a great plus to have back here,” Lewis said. “His knowledge of the (AFC West) opponents that we’ve prepared for and just his perspective on things from having been a head coach have been great to have.”
While players, coaches and analysts around the league raved about the one-handed touchdown catch A.J. Green made Sunday in Kansas City, Green offered a much lower assessment of the play on Wednesday when he was asked if he had seen the replays.
“Yeah, I saw it. It was all right,” he said before giving it a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
It marked the ninth consecutive game he’s had at least one touchdown, a single-season franchise record. It’s also one shy of the all-time Bengals record of 10 set by Carl Pickens from 1994-95.
“I don’t really pay attention to all of that stuff til the end of the season,” he said. “Toward the end of the season, I’ll be like, all right, I did OK. But until then I will stay on this grind with my head down and keep playing.”