CINCINNATI—Jeremy Hill plunged into the end zone with just under five minutes left in the game and clinched the Bengals’ fourth consecutive win.
The Cincinnati Bengals (4-0) were rather impressive once again, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs (1-3), 36-21.
It is Cincinnati’s first 4-0 start since 2005, a season they eventually won the AFC North division championship with an 11-5 record.
In fact, the three times Cincinnati has started a season 4-0 (1975, 1988, and 2005), they have finished the season with at least 11 victories.
Hill’s fourth quarter touchdown was just the finale to his scoring fest. The LSU-product scored a career-high three touchdowns to get his sophomore campaign back-on-track after rushing for a combined 60 yards and losing a pair of fumbles in the last two games.
Hill finished the Bengals’ opening seven play/80-yard drive with a nine yard touchdown rush—the drive was set up by a 36-yard third down pitch and catch from Andy Dalton to AJ Green.
Green finished the game with a team-high seven receptions for 82 yards.
Dalton was fantastic once again for the Bengals, completing 17 of 24 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown.
Through four games, the Red Rifle has been at his best—10 touchdowns, two turnovers, 1,187 yards, 67.2 completion percentage, and a 123.0 passer rating.
Andy started the game by completing his first 10 passes for 179 yards and led Cincinnati to a second-consecutive 80-yard drive in the first quarter—capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run by Giovani Bernard that put the Bengals up, 14-3.
Bernard continued to be the back Cincinnati sided with, out-touching Hill for the third consecutive game. The North Carolina-grad finished the game with 62 yards on 13 carries and the aforementioned touchdown. However, it was the first time in Bernard’s career he was held without a catch.
The Bengals’ defense was bent the entire game—but never broke.
In the first half, Kansas City’s four drives netted 78, 58, 60, and 49 yards, but all resulted in Cairo Santos field goals.
The story didn’t change in the second half, either; as the Chiefs’ would settle for three more field goals—giving Santos seven for the game, a franchise record.
Kansas City answered Bernard’s touchdown with nine unanswered points in the second quarter, but once again, could not find the end zone.
In the first half this season, the Bengals have not allowed a touchdown and have outscored their opponents, 66-18.
Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith had himself a great stat-line, racking up a career-high 386 passing yards but was unable to get his unit across the goal line.
Elias Sports Bureau shared the stat that Smith’s 386 yards is the third-most in NFL history by a quarterback whose team failed to score an offensive touchdown.
Smith had a great time attacking a Bengals’ secondary that lost Adam Jones and was without starting safety George Illoka on Sunday—favoring wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who caught 11 passes for 148 yards.
Maclin, in his seventh season out of Missouri, has now recorded back-to-back 100-yard games for just the second time in his career, collecting 289 yards receiving in the span.
Opposite Maclin, running back Jaamal Charles had an impressive outing as well, collecting 135 yards-from-scrimmage (11 carries-75 yards, six receptions-70 yards). But like the rest of the offense, Charles could not find the end zone as he failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season.
A crucial part to any NFL game is turnovers. Cincinnati came into Sunday +2 in the turnover differential department; Kansas City was -3 in the same category.
On Sunday, there was only one turnover, but it proved to be very costly.
With Cincinnati leading, 21-15, in the third quarter, Smith found Ohio-native Travis Kelce on a 3rd and 30, but the University of Cincinnati-product fumbled after a hit by defensive end Michael Johnson, and safety Reggie Nelson recovered and added a 25-yard return to put Cincinnati in the red zone.
The game’s only turnover led to the second of Hill’s three touchdowns, plus a two-point run that put Cincinnati ahead by 14 late in the third quarter.
Pass rush was a huge element going into this game—an element Cincinnati would dominate by the conclusion.
The Bengals were able to pitch a shutout of deadly pass rushers Tamba Ali and Justin Houston, a duo that has combined for 86.5 sacks in the past four seasons.
On the other hand, Cincinnati put Smith under duress for most of the game, as Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Johnson, and Domata Peko all recorded sacks.
Peko even added a belly-rub dance that would make Austin Power’s character, “Fat Bastard” stand and applaud.
For the first time this season, Dalton did not have multiple touchdowns. However, his lone scoring heave was a thing of beauty.
Facing 3rd and 11 on the Bengals’ first drive of the second half, Dalton rolled to his right and fired a heave to Brandon Tate—who went full extension to haul in the pass—then stopped, dropped, and rolled like he was on fire from the hand that threw him the pigskin.
Tate got to his feet while avoiding the outstretched hand of rookie Marcus Peters and dove across the goal line for the score.
It was a great moment for Tate, delivering a catch and run worthy of a Sportscenter Top-10 play. It was Tate’s third career receiving touchdown as a member of the Bengals, and his first since last year’s tie with the Carolina Panthers.
Even more incredible, that was not only Tate’s first reception of the season, but it came on his first offensive snap of 2015.
Mohamad Sanu finished the game as Cincinnati’s leading receiver (four receptions, 84 yards), due in large-part to a 52-yard reception in the second quarter.
Later that drive, however, Mike Nugent’s 44-yard field goal hooked left and clanked off the upright, leaving the Bengals’ scoreless.
After ending last week’s win over the Ravens with zero receptions, tight end Tyler Eifert rebounded with 69 receiving yards on three catches. His biggest play was a 30-yard snag in the fourth quarter on 3rd and one, which led to the last of Hill’s touchdowns and a Bengals’ win.
If there is any spot of rain on the Bengals’ 4-0 start, it is the secondary. Back-to-back weeks, the Bengals’ have allowed the opposition’s number one receiver to produce big numbers.
Steve Smith Sr. and Maclin have combined for 24 receptions, 334 yards, and two touchdowns in the last two weeks against Cincinnati.
Getting healthy is the top priority for this secondary. Illoka missed Sunday’s win due to an ankle injury, Pacman left the game with a pulled-groin, and Dre Kirkpatrick suffered a wrist injury but returned to the game.
This left Darqueeze Dennard to get more coverage snaps, and was attacked multiple times by Alex Smith targeting Maclin.
Vinny Rey led the team with 15 tackles, but was shaken up early in the second half because of an ankle injury.
Despite a banged-up defense, it was another impressive performance by a Cincinnati team that is trying to prove they are contenders.
The Bengals join the Denver Broncos (4-0) and New England Patriots (3-0) in the list of undefeated teams in the AFC.
This win was also huge because of its divisional implications.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to divison-rival Baltimore on Thursday Night, and the Cleveland Browns lost on a late field goal against the San Diego Chargers.
Cincinnati now holds a two-game lead on Pittsburgh, three on Cleveland, and four on Baltimore (tie-breaker included).
@Dan_Hoard: Since 1990, teams that open 4-0 go to the playoffs 83% of the time, go to the Super Bowl 30% of the time & win it all 14% of the time.
The Bengals may be faced with their biggest task of the season in week five with the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks (1-2) coming to Paul Brown Stadium, a venue Cincinnati is 15-2-1 at since 2013.