Notes: Green looks OK for quick return; Crowd boosts Still; Bold rush; Iloka doubles; Air Sanu

Posted Sep 14, 2014

A.J. Green may be back quickly...The crowd embraced Devon Still...The run game lives...George Iloka's two picks symbolized another suffocating defensive stand at home...Mohamed Sanu did it all Sunday while replacing Green...

Running back Giovani Bernard hurdled his way to 169 all-purpose yards.

It appears that A.J. Green won’t be lost for a long period of time and if he doesn’t play next Sunday against Tennessee, indications are he had a negative MRI and he’ll be ready after the bye week for the Oct. 5 game in New England. He wasn’t on crutches with his right toe injury and watched the last three quarters of Sunday’s 24-10 victory over Atlanta on the sideline.

It's the injury that scratched Green from practice on Thursday, but he went full go on Friday. He left after the first couple of plays of the game and had no catches for the first time in his 49 NFL games.  

Right guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) left on crutches and it’s unclear how long he’ll be out, but indications are it’s not a season-ender. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) walked out of the locker room and appears to be ready for next week.

The status of WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (stinger), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee), and tight end Alex Smith (bicep) are unknown.

CROWD BOOSTS STILL: Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still had two solo tackles and one assist Sunday and heard the crowd roar for his name each time.

“How could you not (hear them?) It was so loud out there...The fans here are just amazing,” Still said with a wide smile, a homemade “Be Leah Strong,” sign next to him. “The fans here are incredible…That allows to me to focus on football.”

Still, his daughter Leah, and Bengals fans have become the biggest feel-good story in sports this week. The Bengals put his No. 75 jersey on sale in the Pro Shop at $100 per pop with all proceeds going to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cancer unit as four-year-old Leah fights Stage 4 of the disease. Still getting activated from the practice squad was a bonus. But Leah getting out of Philadelphia Children’s Hospital Sunday was the best news of the day.

Many times the Bengals go into a game with seven defensive linemen and Still would have been one of the odd men out. But the Bengals opted to go with eight to keep pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and it was fortuitous because tackle Brandon Thompson went down with a knee injury early in the second quarter.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told him Saturday he might have a spot for him and on Sunday he told him for sure with, ‘Dev, you’re up.”

“I was worried I wasn’t going to be active, so when he told me I was active, I smiled real hard but I kept a straight face so Coach Lewis wouldn’t see how excited I was,” Still said.

Leah was back home watching and when he called to say he was playing, she told him she had watched the story on them on ESPN’s NFL Countdown.

“’Dad, I’m on TV,’” Still recalled the conversation. “I told her when she got done watching that to go home and make sure she turns on the game.”

NO RUNNING JOKE: That didn’t take long.

New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson pledged when he got the job that the centerpiece of his scheme would be a physical running game and the 45 carries in his second game on the job is believed to be the most rushing attempts in the Green-Dalton era. Giovani Bernard (90 yards) on a career-high 27 carries and rookie Jeremy Hill (74) are also the two most prolific Bengals rushers in the 50 games of Dalton.

“It’s the intangibles and fortitude we have to be great,” Whitworth said of the difference in the running game.  “He preaches it every week. That’s the mindset, the attitude that no matter what is called, we’ll find a way to make it work. To be honest, that’s the biggest difference.”

PBS DEFENSE: The Bengals tied the franchise record for most consecutive regular-season home victories with 10 Sunday and they did it in vintage, ball-hawking fashion. Last year in going 8-0 at home they gave up nine touchdowns to 15 interceptions and this year they got off to another big start by forcing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into three picks to go against his one touchdown pass. They also defended six other passes.

Veteran cornerback Leon Hall got the 24th interception of his career, a diving grab via a tip by WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict, pulling him within one of Lemar Parrish and fourth place on the Bengals all-time interceptions list.

Meanwhile, third-year safety George IIoka doubled his output of one interception last year with two in a 17-minute span of Sunday’s second half.

“That was my goal coming into the year, get my hands on more balls. I’m just happy I’ve got a good start,” Iloka said.

But  his biggest play was not letting Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catch a bomb from Ryan way back when the game was tied at three with 9:04 left in the second quarter. Running back Steven Jackson had just rambled for 13 yards to the Bengals 48 when Ryan let loose with a high first down fling. It looked like Iloka would have an easy pick in the end zone, but Jones fought back into position and leaped in front of Iloka before Iloka ripped it out of Jones hands’ as they wrestled to the ground.

“That was a touchdown,” Iloka said. “I saw Matt Ryan look that way and I hauled butt because Julio is fast. You’ve got to back each other up in the secondary.”

The play symbolized how the Bengals have crushed every quarterback in the 10-game streak. They stifled an Atlanta receiving corps that the week before had four players with at least 69 yards. On Sunday, Jones, with 88, was the only wide out who had more than 42.

“That’s how I’ve been taught since I’ve been here,” Iloka said. “No deep throws. Let them catch everything up front. Tackle them and make them beat us.”

AIR SANU:  Mohamed Sanu got a battlefield promotion Sunday to No. 1 receiver with A.J. Green’s toe injury and was involved in two of the prettiest throws of the day. The first one he threw himself to keep his perfect career passer rating intact and the second one he turned into his 76-yard touchdown catch off a brave throw by Dalton against the blitz.

Sanu, the all-New Jersey quarterback with the Atlantic City touch, has thrown three passes each in his three NFL seasons and all three have been perfect seeds. His first one came as a rookie and was a 73-yard touchdown pass to Green out of the Wild cat formation on the first play in Washington. His second one came last season off a pitch on a sweep left and he stopped and threw it across the field the other way to Giovani Bernard for a 25-yard strike on the sideline.

And the one Sunday came off an end around to the right, and when he rose up he threw a sweet 50-yard lob job to wide receiver Brandon Tate down the right sideline that he caught over his head just before he went out of bounds.

He is now 3-for-3 for 148 yards with one TD, no picks and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

“They’re all right,” he said of the throws, trying not to smile. “I’m just trying to put it up in the area where he could go make a play.”

Sanu never warms up tossing the ball and he didn’t again Sunday. Even Dalton shakes his head at that and he says he hasn’t been giving him tips.

  “Absolutely not. He doesn’t even warm up,” Dalton said. “You just kind of get it to him and let him throw. I think he’s three for three now on his career and he throws the ball well.”


Then it was Dalton’s turn to throw a seed and it was to Sanu for the touchdown that was the true dagger three minutes into the second half because there was no way the Falcons were going to score two touchdowns to tie against this defense Sunday.

While everybody spent the week raving about the Falcons’ fleet of fleet receivers, they forget about the Bengals depth at the position. One starter, Marvin Jones, won’t play until next month. The other starter, Green didn’t get out of the first series. But Sanu played like a starter.

“You have to makes plays when they come your way. Those are two great receivers that are down and you have to make some plays when your number is called,” Sanu said.

Dalton called Sanu’s number at the line when he saw an all-out blitz, man-to-man coverage, and a gaping hole in the middle of the field.

“I knew they were bringing all-out pressure there, so one guy’s going to be unblocked. We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route,” Dalton said. “When you’re playing cover zero and you make one guy miss, there’s nobody else in the back end. When he fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty job in the end zone.”

Dalton hung in to the last instant and before he got blown up by tackle Jonathan Babineaux, he drilled a dart over the middle on Sanu’s fingertips. When Sanu flicked it away from cornerback Robert Alford and emerged from the brief scrum, there was nobody there.

“Andy saw something they were doing and then he threw me a dime,” Sanu said. “I was able to run out of the tackle after Andy threw me a fantastic ball.”

Don’t look now, but both Bengals passers are lighting it up for the season. Sanu is at his customary 118.8 passer rating while Dalton is having the most efficient start of his career at 105.4 with the big numbers no interceptions and 9.1 yards per attempt.

“I think the way that I’m seeing the field and the way that I’ve kind of been directing this offense, I think I’ve got a better understanding of when to take a chance and try to fit things in and when to check it down,” Dalton said. “It’s been good to us so far, we’ve got to keep that up and not try to turn the ball over.”




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