Some 20 minutes past eight Thursday night, Carlos Dunlap had to fully switch his focus from one aerial assault to another.
Instead of Florence, he had to focus on Flacco.
Dunlap is from North Charleston, South Carolina, where his family still lives. His mother, Diane Ross, is a longtime school teacher and administer there.
With his hometown lying on the edge of South Carolina’s Lowcountry and soon to face the winds and storm surge of the oncoming Hurricane Florence, the Bengals quarterback-harassing defensive end had to concentrate on the Baltimore Ravens in the nationally spotlighted game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Dunlap said even in the pregame dressing room, he, like other South Carolinians on the team — receivers A.J. Green and Auden Tate — had Florence in the back of their minds:
“We’re aware of what’s happening. I heard now the hurricane was dropping down in intensity, but I know it still will bring a lot of rain and that’s a problem in Charleston. We’re below sea level and it floods a lot.
“Thankfully my family – my mom and dad, my sister and brother and nephew – all got out in time and they’re all here. That made it a little more comforting, though I do have big concerns for our homes back there where we grew up.
“But the bottom line was that I had a job to do here tonight.”
And he and the rest of the Bengals — especially in the first half — did it as well as anyone in the NFL could have Thursday night.
In the first 17 minutes, Cincinnati jumped ahead of the mighty Ravens 21-0 on a record three touchdown catches by Green and that propelled the way to an eventual 34-23 victory.
In the process, Dunlap downgraded Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco from a threat to a prime target all night long.
The 6-foot-6 Bengal deflected three of his passes, one time hitting his right arm just as he threw and the resulting errant toss was intercepted by safety Shawn Williams.
Green – who is from Summerville, S,C. just 19 miles from North Charleston and, like Dunlap, remains strongly tied to his hometown offering summer camps for kids and often visiting schools – also managed to forget Mother Nature and turned his attention to the offerings of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
“When the ball is in the air I really don’t see nobody else,” he said as he stood at his locker afterward. “I don’t know who’s around me. All I see is the ball.”
He caught his first touchdown – a 4-yard pass from Dalton who had rolled to the right sideline – at 10:35 of the first quarter. Just over four minutes later he caught his second TD, breaking the tackle of Ravens’ cornerback Tavon Young and sprinting 32 yards to put Cincinnati up 14-0.
Four plays into the second quarter he beat Ravens’ cornerback Marlon Humphrey on a 7-yard TD catch.
After the score, Green simply flipped the ball to the official and then held up three fingers, signifying the first three-touchdown catch game of his illustrious eight-year, 61-TD career here.
Such muted celebration is typical of Green and the reason other more flamboyant receivers – like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant – often, though not usually warranted, eclipse him on the national stage.
“We’re a team that’s gonna stay quiet,” Green said of the Bengals impressive 2-0 start. “We’re not gonna toot our own horns. We’re just gonna keep playing.”
Before the NFL season kicked off a week ago, the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were considered the heavyweights of the AFC North by many prognosticators and Cincinnati was seen as a break-even also-ran.
In Sunday’s opener, the Bengals scored 34 points at Indianapolis and won by 11. They did the exact same thing Thursday night.
What a difference a year makes. Two games into last season they were 0-2 and had not scored a touchdown.
“This time last year everybody was asking, ‘What’s your problem?’” Green laughed.
Once the Ravens realized they couldn’t use man coverage on Green, they put more emphasis on him and that opened up the game for third-year receiver Tyler Boyd, who finished with six catches for 91 yards and a 14-yard TD catch.
“I’ve seen him mature from a little kid to now making plays up and down the field,” Green said. “His game’s getting to where it’s gonna be hard just to cover me.”
Maybe the best offensive weapon Cincinnati has though is second-year running back Joe Mixon, who is a mix of shifty moves, bull-ahead strength and moxie, as seen in the way he jumped to the defense of Dalton who Ravens defenders bulldogged to the turf near the sidelines early in the third quarter.
With Mixon, I believe we’re watching the birth of a real NFL star.
The other impressive thing about the Bengals was the way back-up players again filled in for starters.
Last week it was Clayton Fejedelem making the play of the game – an 83-yard strip and fumble return for a TD – after he replaced Shawn Williams, who had been ejected for a hit on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Against the Ravens, linebacker Hardy Nickerson filled in for pregame scratch Preston Brown.
Rookie defensive end Sam Hubbard – playing in his hometown – made his PBS debut memorable with a sack, two tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit, while helping take up the slack after veteran defensive end Michael Johnson limped off with a knee injury.
Just as impressive was the way backup center Trey Hopkins filled in for Billy Price, who suffered an ankle injury late in the first quarter.
And speaking of Shawn Williams, he fully redeemed himself after last Sunday’s ill-advised hit on Luck.
Against the Ravens, Williams had eight tackles, the interception and a late-game sack and tomahawk chop strip of Flacco as he readied to throw. The play sealed the game.
“So much of my mind going into this was on what had happened and trying to find a way to put it behind me,” he said. “I’m a captain and I felt like I let the team down.”
Immediately after the game, Williams went into the training room and got an IV to combat the cramping he and others had felt on the field in the fourth quarter.
“I got one at halftime, too,” he said.
Dunlap got a postgame IV, as well, said one team official.
Well past midnight the big defender reappeared at his locker and soon he would join his family, who waited outside.
“I’m sure later on we’ll be watching to see how our homes are doing, but right now I feel good,” he said. “We won the game and for a few hours my family had something to take their minds off everything else.”
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