The Cincinnati Bengals enter today’s game against the Denver Broncos looking for their first win in more than a month and their first victory against Peyton Manning in forever.
“We need a sense of urgency, no question about it,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose team has lost three games in a row to fall to 3-4.
“Our guys know that and the meaning of this football game,” Lewis added. “It’s an important, important football game.”
And it comes against a quarterback who has owned the Bengals since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
Manning is 7-0 against Cincinnati — his best record against any team in the league — and the 36-year-old quarterback continues to defy age and put up big numbers in his first season in Denver despite recovering from neck surgery.
“He and they have done a great job of re-creating the atmosphere of the offensive schematics that they had in Indy,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Obviously Peyton is playing well. He’s taking shots, he’s getting up, he’s moving in the pocket. People may have doubted if he can still move in the pocket the way he always has, but you saw that against San Diego, where he steps over the guy, re-sets his feet and makes the throw. You’re obviously talking about a future Hall of Famer.”
The AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Manning leads the NFL in passer rating (109) and yards per attempt (8.2), and he ranks in the top five in three other categories – yards per game (second, 301.9), touchdown passes (third, 17) and completion percentage (fourth, 68.5).
The Broncos rank second in the NFL in total offense (405.4 yards per game), second in passing offense (292.9) and fourth in scoring (29.1 points per game).
“They’re probably one of the most improved offenses, if not teams in the NFL,” Bengals cornerback Leon Hall said of Denver, which leads the AFC West Division with a 4-3 record.
“With certain quarterbacks, for most part you can line up and say whatever, figure out what we’re doing,” Hall continued. “But with him, you can’t show your hand too early.”
Of course even if the Bengals are able to solve, or at least slow, Manning, that will only be half of the battle.
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense have regressed during the current three-game losing streak, committing eight turnovers while averaging just 18 points to slip to the 17th-ranked offense in the NFL (357.1 ypg). And the Broncos bring in the NFL’s ninth-ranked defense (319.3 ypg).
“They’re a speed defense,” said Dalton, who has thrown six interceptions in the last three games and at least one in all seven contests this season.
“With Von (Miller) and (Elvis) Dumervil on the edges rushing the passer, their whole thing is speed,” Dalton continued. “You’ve got to find ways to slow those guys down. There are some holes in there once you get it all picked up. It’s just executing at that point.”
In addition to Miller (six sacks) and Dumervil (five), the Broncos have another future Hall of Famer at cornerback in Champ Bailey. And linebacker is Wesley Woodyard, the team leader in tackles, is the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
“It’s going to be a test for our offense,” Lewis said. “We have to go out and get after them offensively.”
At 3-4 with all four losses coming against conference opponents, the Bengals cannot afford another lose to an AFC team. With so many teams hovering around the .500 mark, including the Broncos, tiebreakers could play a big role in determining the wildcard teams at the end of the year.
A three-game losing streak obviously wasn’t the way the Bengals wanted to enter their bye week, but they used the time off to heal some injuries, refresh their minds and re-evaluate some personnel.
“Obviously this is an important week for us, with another AFC opponent, and one right now that is currently leading their division and is very hot,” Lewis said. “Over the last 10 days, we’ve had a good opportunity to evaluate ourselves and look at what we’re doing. We’ve got to continue to look to create the unscripted plays, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams.”
Denver deja vu
The last time the Denver Broncos visited Paul Brown Stadium, they produced one of the most imfamous plays in Bengals history.
After Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer had led the team on an 11-play, 91-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown with 38 seconds remaining, Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley caught a pass tipped by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall for an 87-yard score with 11 seconds to go, lifting Denver to a 12-7 win.
It remains the longest winning play from scrimmage in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history.
“I have no recollection of the event in question,” Hall deadpanned when asked about the play earlier this week.
“One of the more amazing plays that you will see outside looking in,” Hall added. “But from the inside looking out, it was one of the more unfortunate plays.”
The Bengals shook off the stunning loss and went on to win their next four games and seven of the next eight on the way to capturing the AFC North Division.
Stokley, on the other hand, said he had a hard time putting the play behind him. It’s surprising to think he would even want to, but his crafty decision to extend the play and melt a few more seconds by running horizontally along the goal line before crossing it gave him nightmares.
“I just kind of saw that nobody was behind me chasing me,” Stokley said. “I saw a guy (Dhani Jones) kind of give up on it. I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left, so I thought why not try to run some time off? And then the next day, I kind of started having nightmares about it. What if I’d have gotten caught? What if I had fumbled? What if somebody would have hit me? I think next time I’ll probably just get in the end zone.”
Despite happening a little more than three years ago, only three of the 22 Denver starters from that game are still with the Broncos, while only five Bengals starters remain.