WEMBLEY, England - In the game pitting dueling playbooks, the Rams won Sunday, 24-10, because they made the big plays and pushed the Bengals into the bye week revising their books:
1) While the Rams were burning them for nine passes of at least 21 yards (two for touchdowns and three for third-down conversions of at least eight yards), Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton couldn't pull the trigger to a wide-open Auden Tate on a double move that would have got them a touchdown in a second half the Bengals didn't score.
"I felt like I had to get out of my hands. It goes back to holding onto the ball or getting it out," Dalton said. "That's unfortunate I missed that one. I wish I could have that one back. That could have kept that drive alive. That could have been a big play right there.
"I mean, there's -- you have to trust your feeling out there. You have to trust the timing of when things happen. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hit that one."
2) While the Rams kept quarterback Jared Goff clean during his 372-yard display averaging nearly 22 yards per completion, Dalton was sacked five times and managed just ten yards per completion.
"They were a step ahead of us," said safety Shawn Williams.
3) In an odd game that had no turnovers and could have swung with one in the third quarter, Williams dropped one early and three combined to drop the same one late when linebacker Nate Vigil let the ball slither through his hands and left end Carlos Dunlap and cornerback Tony McRae missed the rebounds.
"We didn't do enough. We've got to create some turnovers," said head coach Zac Taylor. "We had an opportunity to get some turnovers there. Those are game changing plays we've got to find a way to come up with. So it was a tough day. We've got to find a way to make those plays and give ourselves our best shot."
Here's the difference: The Rams get in the red zone and pound it four times to running back Todd Gurley for a touchdown. The Bengals get in the red zone four times and score a touchdown once and get no points twice. On the field goal, Dalton took a sack and center Trey Hopkins false started. On the no scores, there was a false start and a reversed touchdown. Somehow they got 401 yards and ten points.
Because of plays like this: Right after the Bengals went down 17-10, Dalton had a third-and-10 from the Rams 30 with 1:20 left in the first half. A sack you can't let happen took them out of field-goal range.
"I wouldn't say it's an issue, but part of that is can you hold onto it a little bit longer, or do you need to get the ball out of your hands?" asked Dalton rhetorically. "Yeah, that's just the way you have to play it. It's just the way that I have to think. Trust everybody is going to get their job done and everything, but that's just part of playing quarterback."
But as grim as 0-8 is (Dalton now has the unwanted distinction of being the only quarterback to start a season 8-0 and 0-8), Taylor sent a message in the face of a stern lesson from old boss Sean McVay and went for it on fourth down six times. They made all but the last two, both inside the nine. That ties their CLUB record for the most fourth-down tries since profootballreference.com started the stat in 1991, matching games in 1993 and 2002.
So Taylor looks like he beat the front office to the punch with the trade deadline looming Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Bengals aren't expected to deal ("That's not our M.O.," Dalton said. "They've been loyal to the guys that we have in this building.") and Taylor is trying to win games.
"I don't think anybody in this locker room or on the coaching staff would ever quit or throw in the towel or tank," said tight end Tyler Eifert, off a season-high six catches for 74 yards. "We'll just keep fighting. There's no mystery sauce here."
Eifert admitted the trade stuff is all over the internet, but he thinks it's just rumors. That's how Taylor is calling it. On and off the field.
"There's some key players that we feel like are critical to our success this year, critical to our future that probably teams want and that we want. So that makes for an easy decision," Taylor said. "We felt like our guys were -- we knew we were going to get those first downs. So we leaned on them."
Frankly, the fourth downs on Sunday were the closest thing this season to what this offense is supposed to look like. Particularly on fourth-and-one on the tying touchdown drive after Dalton took an unsuccessful shot deep to wide receiver Tyler Boyd on third-and-one.
"There were certain situations we knew we were going to go for it on fourth down," Dalton said. "I thought we had a good plan for some of those short yardage plays. I think that's why we were able to convert on a couple of those fourth downs.
Running back Joe Mixon, coming into the game with just 12 yards on his last 18 carries, was feeling it behind an offensive line that Taylor spiced up with a more than a usual amount of double tight ends and occasional six offensive linemen to counter that monstrous L.A. front.
Fourth-and-1 from the Bengals 45 down 10-3 in the middle of the second quarter.
Mixon got three out of the shot gun when Dalton handed it to him behind Hopkins and his guards Alex Redmond and Billy Price.
"I probably wouldn't have called it seeing what personnel grouping they put on the field. But I could just feel Joe's energy that he was going to get a first, and he got it. I think the linemen were feeding off that, so we got it," Taylor said. "Quite frankly, I was hesitant to do it, and I could just feel they believed in it and believed in each other. That's what you want to see from this team. That's when you know we're headed the right direction because they're starting to get confidence in the things that they're doing and they're believing that the other guys are going to help them. We had 11 guys on the same page on a lot of that stuff, and it worked out for us."
Boyd continues to sweat ice cubes on third and fourth downs. His two biggest catches Sunday came on fourth-and-two (for 22 when he swiped a back-shoulder fade from Nickell Roby-Coleman) and fourth-and-13 (for 18 on a vintage play over the middle where Boyd repeated history to confound former Raven Eric Weddle). Tate added a 27-yarder on fourth-and-10 and the Rams' pressure seemingly was swallowed up until late in the game.
"I think, especially early in the game, we had a couple third and shorts were like, hey, we're going to try to take a shot," Dalton said. "Then if we get it, great. If not, we're going to go for it on fourth down. So I think that's being aggressive on offense. This is how we want to play. I think, obviously, on fourth down, when you have to convert, I thought we did a good job of that."
If that's the thing Taylor would like to plagiarize from McVay's playbook, it is that outright, galling aggressiveness. McVay flashed it just at the right time Sunday. Just when the Bengals had tied the game at 10 with 5:18 left in the first half. Mixon was rolling with 53 yards on ten carries and had just tied it catching a one-yard flip from Dalton. And the Rams were looking at first-and-10 from their 35 when quarterback Jared Goff flipped it to wide receiver Cooper Kupp coming in motion to start a double reverse flea flicker to the man who started it.
Kupp. When Goff threw it to Kupp downfield about 20 yards, cornerback B.W. Webb fell down when he went to make the tackle and Kupp was gone for a stunning 65-yard touchdown.
They never looked back. The game had turned for good. The Bengals were suddenly wobbled and they didn't quite recover.
Taylor didn't hesitate. No. He hadn't seen that play in McVay's book the last two years.
"I had seen it, but not from them," Williams said.
"No and you'll never see it again," Dunlap said.
"No," said right end Sam Hubbard, when asked if he had ever seen it. "I was not anticipating that. Especially from these guys. They don't really use trick plays that often. Great play. Great design. Good for them. I thought we were playing good defense. We were getting after it, stopping the run. That one really hurt."
What made the play (and Kupp's 40-yard catch on third-and-10 on the first drive of the second half that Shawn Williams took the blame) was the amount of time the line gave Goff. That right now may be the difference in the playbooks. The trust that Dalton talked about and the trust Goff displayed.
"We've got to create our own breaks here," Taylor said. "We've got to get that turnover. Someone's got to make that big play on offense that gets us a 60-yard touchdown, breaks a tackle, goes and scores. We just need the guys to step up in that way. But they're still fighting to do the things we ask, and they're giving us a chance. We've just got to get over that hump."
Despite the meager 10 points, there was optimism on offense. There was a lot of talk about an eight-game season. Eifert liked the look and feel of how double tight ends helped out the run. A.J. Green looked good enough in pregame to make you think returning for the next one is quote doable. Nov. 10. At The Paul. Vs. the Ravens. And, that lone TD drive is how it is supposed to look. The running game taking over.
"Being able to keep what we perceive as the defense off bounds a little bit and the backs are running hard," Taylor said. "Joe and Gio (Bernard) had great runs, doing everything we asked them. Tight ends very much involved as well, and the receivers did a good job. It's encouraging, and we've just got to put it more together. So many times we crossed the 50, and, again, we just couldn't quite get past that threshold to get the point on the board. Then we had the two drives at the end of the game where we just came up short to get points. That's why you don't win the game.
And Taylor seemed to get encouragement from being around his old team. They may be headed back to the Super Bowl and Taylor may be headed back to the drawing board, but he seemed to see something familiar.
"It's a good group of people there, and that's why I'm so encouraged by what we've got going on in our building because everybody's on the same page," Taylor said. "That's the key to future success. I know it hasn't paid off yet, but it's going to because everyone still believes, and we keep believing in each other and stick tight together, and it will pay off just like it's paid off for them."
At least on this Sunday, there didn't seem to be much talk about Trade Tuesday.
"Everyone that's in the building is the guys that we're going to work with, that we're going to play with," Dalton said, " and I think we've got the right mentality with everybody in there."
Dunlap, one of the more prominent names mentioned, had other things on his mind.
"I'm not worried about the business," Dunlap said. "I'm worried about the football."