Bengals close in on playoff spot with win over Eagles
PHILADELPHIA — Now the Cincinnati Bengals can focus on that other Pennsylvania team.
Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, an opportunistic defence forced five turnovers and Cincinnati beat the Philadelphia Eagles 34-13 on Thursday night.
The Bengals (8-6) took a half-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last playoff spot in the AFC. But their game at Pittsburgh next week is far more important in the standings than this one.
“We’ve got nothing to celebrate here,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “But we won and we do have some time to get ready for Pittsburgh.”
The Bengals would clinch their second straight playoff berth with a win over the Steelers if Pittsburgh loses at Dallas this Sunday. A loss to the Steelers, though, likely would ruin Cincinnati’s chances because it would lose the tiebreaker.
“Our goal is to win games. Period. We did that. Doesn’t matter how we got there,” cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “We can be better. We can be higher. And that’s what we take from this game. Listen, we all know we need to play better as a defence next week. Because we have ourselves a big one next week.”
The Eagles’ season was lost a long time ago. They fell to 4-10, losing double-digit games for the first time since 2005, the year after losing the Super Bowl to New England.
There were plenty of empty seats at the Linc, where fans are hoping this is Andy Reid’s final season as coach. Reid led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, six division titles and five NFC championship games in his first 13 years. But the Eagles will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and owner Jeffrey Lurie already said 8-8 would be “unacceptable.”
“Five turnovers, 31 points. That says it all,” Reid said. “Guys played hard, but you can’t have those turnovers. You have to take care of the ball. Guys have to do it. I take full responsibility for them.”
An interception by Leon Hall set up Dalton’s go-ahead 11-yard TD run in the third quarter. Then Wallace Gilberry picked up Bryce Brown’s fumble and ran it back 25 yards for another score and an 11-point lead.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 106 yards, including a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter for Cincinnati. Dalton tossed a 5-yard TD pass to A.J. Green in the fourth to cap a 24-point outburst in a span of 3:23.
“We realize what’s at stake here, and we know we needed to put some football plays together,” Lewis said. “We put ourselves at risk tonight, but we made plays when we needed to. We were able to get some things going with the turnovers and that definitely helped. We redirected some things at halftime and got everyone on the same page.”
The Eagles committed three turnovers on three straight possessions at one point and then fumbled a kickoff when defensive lineman Cedric Thornton let the ball fall through his hands on a short kick.
After beating Tampa Bay on a last-second TD last week to snap an eight-game losing streak, the Eagles tried to make it two in a row. Turnovers got in their way again. They’ve committed an NFL-high 34 and forced just 12 all season.
The Eagles snapped a drought of 22 quarters without a turnover by recovering two fumbles in the second. Both led to field goals by Alex Henery, helping Philadelphia to a 13-10 halftime lead.
Rookie Nick Foles made his fifth straight start for Michael Vick, who just returned to practice this week after sustaining a concussion on Nov. 11. Foles threw for 182 yards, one TD and one interception.
Down 13-10, the Bengals started their rally with a turnover.
Hall intercepted Foles’ deep pass and returned it 44 yards to the Eagles 40. Foles underthrew Jeremy Maclin, who was a few steps behind Hall.
“I feel really good anytime I have one of our receivers vertical on a guy,” Foles said. “I just have to get the ball out there and make a better throw.”
Green made an acrobatic catch for an 11-yard gain on third-and-9 a few plays before Dalton ran for the score to put the Bengals up 17-13.
The Eagles were again without running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek also sat out. Both players also are recovering from concussions. McCoy missed his fourth straight game, but returned to practice this week with Vick.