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Bengals Notebook: Weekly NFL Roller Coaster Has Cincy With A Playoff View; McPherson Dips Toe Into History; DBs Stand Tall 

Evan McPherson went four-for-four Sunday, three from at least 50 yards.
Evan McPherson went four-for-four Sunday, three from at least 50 yards.

This is how big the games are now.

In a space of three hours Sunday in Las Vegas the Bengals went from tied with the 5-4 Raiders and playoff outsiders to postseason power brokers when they vaulted six spots into the fifth seed of the AFC tournament if the asteroid hit today.

A stout defense and a relentless offense spelled Sunday's 32-13 victory that left the 5-5 Raiders flattened and in the 11th spot. The Bengals aren't there because rookie kicker Evan McPherson tied an NFL record with three field goals of 50 yards and the defense stoned Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on the first six third downs of the game to allow running back Joe Mixon to take over the fourth quarter.  

Which means next Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the 5-4-1 Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium is another walk on the precipice between fifth place and oblivion.

Head coach Zac Taylor showed his team the big picture after the 41-16 loss to the Browns two weeks ago before their bye to let them know the world hadn't ended. But now that doesn't sound like such a great idea when the big picture has morphed into a big pile.

"We don't talk about big picture of the season," Taylor said after curing his bye hangover with a couple of shots of playoff recipe. "But the Raiders were a great example of a team that's right there with us, 5-4, and we've just put ourselves in a position to control our own destiny. We're going to play a lot of teams similar to the Raiders, same record, all shooting for the same thing. As long as we take care of our business, one week at a time, then we'll be in great shape, starting with the Raiders. They were in the same position and our guys understood that message and keep moving it forward week to week. Pittsburgh's no different."

Coming off their last three byes the Bengals had been famously outscored by about 100 points. But remember what offensive coordinator Brian Callahan had to say about that last week. A playoff run can cure a lot of that and the Bengals hit all the post-season markers in this one. They played defense, they ran the ball, they made their big kicks and they hammered the time of possession by nearly 15 minutes.

"It's not so much about the playoff race for me," Taylor said. "We had that losing feeling the last two weeks that we played. It's more just getting that momentum back. We felt there, even the loss to Green Bay, that five game chunk there. That's our team. In the last two games we've got our momentum back. It's more for that aspect. So, let's get that momentum going into a big division game this week and get back to feeling how we felt from playing throughout the season."

MCPHERSON EASES TO RECORD: The kid didn't break a sweat. According to Elias, Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson became the first player in NFL history to kick six field goals of at least 50 yards in his first ten games when he nailed three Sunday to give the Bengals breathing room at 16-6.

"It was huge, huge because we needed to win this game a certain way," Taylor said. "We had to get that lead no matter what it looked like so that we could keep leaning on the run game and get after the quarterback a little bit, put as much pressure on him as possible. Evan, being able to capitalize on those drives. Even if it was just three points, three points, three points it's deflating for the other team and it was a great response from our guys."

The three 50s in a game tied an NFL record and Elias says he's one of three kickers to have six 50s in the first ten games this season. He faces one of them next Sunday in Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell. Old friend Mike Zimmer's Greg Joseph is the other in Minnesota.

DEFENSE OF REDMPTION: After giving up 75 points in the last two games and allowing nearly 50 percent third-down conversions, the Bengals defense reminded everyone just how good they are. They blanked the Raiders on their first six third downs (1-7 on the game) and gave up just one touchdown.

According to Schrammy Stats Inc., Pete Schramm, the Bengals' inexhaustible manager of media relations, the Cincy defense has been at its best after turnovers.

The offense has committed 14 turnovers, including two pick-sixes. But in the 12 instances where the opposing offense took over possession, the defense has allowed just one touchdown and six field goals for 26 points. So opponents have failed to manage points on five of those possessions. One ended in a punt, there was one missed field goal (hello Mason Crosby), a fourth-down stop and two interceptions.


Even better, when opposing offenses take over inside the Bengals' 20, they have one touchdown, three field goals and a missed field goal.


Never was that more important than Sunday when they turned disaster into relief after a sack-strip of quarterback Joe Burrow immediately put them on their nine to open the game. But with foreshadowing on how they would handle the Raiders' biggest threat, tight end Darren Waller, with a group mentality, slot cornerback Mike Hilton was all over him on a second-down screen and dropped him for a loss.

On the next snap, the secondary, playing more man than usual, forced Carr to check it down in the flat to running back Josh Jacobs and free safety Jessie Bates III was close enough to force an incompletion and a field goal.

If you look back on Jan. 10, that might be one of the sequences you circle. It only put them down, 3-0.

Then Bates made a play almost as big on the first drive off the second half. On third-and-a-half-yard, Bates swiftly diagnosed a jet sweep to wide receiver Bryan Edwards and came flying upfield to take his legs out for a loss to force a punt.

It was quite a game for the stand-up secondary that last week vowed to be better. Bates, regarded as one of the league's best young players, openly talked about how he had to regain the form of his first three seasons and ignore his contract status.

Hilton, who along with Chidobe Awuzie defended fellow cornerback Eli Apple on the 60-yard bomb against Cleveland two weeks ago, vowed to tighten things up. And he was immense. He was particularly pumped about his matchup with Raiders slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, whose 17 third-down catches were seventh best in the league coming in. Renfrow caught the Raiders' only third-down conversion when it didn't matter on the play before the two-minute warning.

Yes, Waller got his 116 yards, but the key was nobody else got more than 30 and they kept the Raiders run game in check with 72 yards, although Vegas tried Josh Jacobs only nine times for 37 yards.

According to Pro Football Focus, four of the top seven grades on defense went to the DBs, led by Apple's comeback No. 2 behind only the brilliant Trey Hendrickson on the edge. PFF had six different defenders on Waller. As much as the media brayed about how the Vegas defense took away the long ball, the Bengals froze Derek Carr's deep game.

Bryan Edwards, who came into the game as the only NFL receiver with 20 yards per catch, and the great vet DeSean Jackson, who came in tied with the Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase with a league-leading six catches over 40 yards, each didn't have a target. And Edwards played 39 snaps and Jackson 16.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo went pretty much with his base people. Ten players played at least 68 percent of the snaps. It looks like he responded to the loss of linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither by playing more three safeties with Ricardo Allen getting 30 percent of the snaps and backup linebacker Markus Bailey getting four snaps.

STAT CHECK: With his 123 yards, Mixon (759) moved from eighth to fourth in NFL rushing in the AFC-only club behind Indy's Jonathan Taylor (1,122), Tennessee's Derrick Henry (937) and Cleveland's Nick Chubb (851).

Despite a career-low 148 passing yards, Burrow remained the AFC's leading passer, stayed in second place in the NFL with yards per attempt and is eighth in passer rating.

With 9.5 sacks, Hendrickson is ninth in the league and is a half-sack away from becoming the first double-digit sacker on the Bengals edge since Carlos Dunlap set the club record with 13.5 in 2015.