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Bengals Rams tough for ninth victory

On the way to becoming the first Bengals team to go 9-2 in the 16-game era, they authored another Paul Brown Stadium defensive special spiced by cornerback Leon Hall's 19-yard interception return for a touchdown during Sunday's 31-7 victory over the Rams.

It secured the Bengals' club-record fifth straight winning season, all under quarterback Andy Dalton as he moved past Tom Brady into fourth place with his 49th victory in his first five seasons. 

Hall's pick, the second of three interceptions of Rams quarterback Nick Foles, came with 5:20 left in the third quarter and gave the Bengals that 31-7 victory, the biggest margin of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals host St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium in week 12 of the regular season.

It was Hall's second interception in as many weeks and 26th as a Bengal, putting him in fourth place on the Bengals' all-time list ahead of Lemar Parrish.

The front seven also did a number on the Rams. Two snaps before Hall came up with his interception, left end Carlos Dunlap sniffed out an end-around to wide receiver Tavon Austin for a four-yard loss to back the Rams up at their own seven. It was one of six negative plays generated by the defense on the day and included in that was Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins' eighth sack, which leads all NFL defensive tackles.

Atkins was able to take the lead because the Bengals offensive line did a brilliant job on Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a Pro Bowler that didn't add to his own total of seven sacks Sunday. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton didn't get sacked against the team with the most sacks in the NFL since 2012.

Dalton used the time to hit 20 of 27 passes for 233 yards and a 121.4 passer rating, the seventh time he's hit triple-digits this season. The Bengals came into the game holding opposing passers to under a combined 70 passer rating in the previous 25 PBS games and on Sunday it was more of the same as Foles finished at 49.9 on 30 o 46 passing for 228 yards.

Tight end Tyler Eifert may have come into the second half leading the NFL with 12 touchdown catches, but his fumble recovery at the end of running back Giovani Bernard's 45-yard catch-and-run helped save the day. Eifert jumped on the ball at the 20 and one snap later Dalton found wide receiver A.J. Green for the second time Sunday for a touchdown, this one an 18-yarder he drilled to a leaping Green at the goal line to give the Bengals a 24-7 with 7:01 left in the third quarter.

Eifert got a pinched nerve in his neck when he nicked his shoulder recovering the fumble and he was originally called probable to return but as the Bengals built the lead he was ruled out. Also ruled out during the second half were linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (ankle) and backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris. After he had a season-high 86 yards rushing on 16 carries, running back Jeremy Hill left in the fourth quarter with a foot injury. Eifert and Hill said after tje game they could play next week and the others also looked OK.

Dalton was relieved by A.J. McCarron and McCarron picked up his first NFL completion for three years.

Green came leaping out of a condendsed formation and no one picked him up until linebacker James Laurinaitis tried to provide some interference at the goal line, but Dalton gunned it in just the right spot for his third touchdown and final pass of the game.

It wiped out his interception on the previous possession, the Bengals' first of the second half. Dalton scrambled out of the pocket and tried to hit wide receiver Marvin Jones in the zone defense, but he underthrew it and cornerback Janoris Jenkins picked it off at the Rams 23.     

Bengals safety Reggie Nelson's NFL leading sixth interception in the last minute at the Rams 15 preserved the Bengals' 17-7 half-time lead.

Safety George Iloka, defending Rams tight end Jared Cook, deflected the ball in the air and Nelson dove to pluck it off the turf for his 21st pick as a Bengal, tying him with Tory James for sixth on the Bengals' all-time list.

It looked like the Bengals had ended the drive two minutes earlier, but  Dunlap's sack of Foles was wiped out by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's hold on Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Dalton rung up a 137.7 passer rating in the half with two touchdown passes on 14 of 18 passing for 145 yards and Hill added 39 yards on seven carries.

Hill ripped off a 12-yard gain and added a 14-yarder off an alert Dalton check-down pass late in the half. Dalton also bobbed and weaved for first-down throws to Green and with Rams the playing off, he hit Marvin Jones on a nine-yard slant to put the ball at the Rams 22 on second down.

Dalton then looked to his left, pump faked, and came back to the right and dropped a ball over Jenkins in a zone and found Eifert for a 22-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bengals a 17-7 lead with 3:27 left in the half. It was Eifert's NFL-leading 12th touchdown catch and first from beyond the red zone.

The Bengals held Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley to 12 yards on six carries in the half and 19 yards for the game, but it was Austin's 60-yard run out of the backfield (with Gurley the Wildcat QB) past right end Will Clarke on the perimeter that set up the Rams' only score, a five-yard touchdown run by Austin around his right edge to cut the lead to 10-7 with 8:29 left in the half.  

 The Bengals used a 30-yard reverse to Marvin Jones, ignited by a big block from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on Jenkins, to secure a 21-yard field goal from Mike Nugent for a 10-0 lead with 10:10 left in the first half.

It completed a 14-play drive that was given life back at the Bengals 18 when Rams running back Chase Reynolds ran into Bengals punter Kevin Huber. After Jones put the ball on the Rams 9, two runs by Bernard put the ball on the 3 on third down. The clubs then exchanged timeouts before the snap in an attempt to get the right packages on the field.

The Bengals opted to go heavy with tackle eligible Jake Fisher and he looked to be open along the back line of the end zone, but a scrambling Dalton didn't get it to him until it was broken up and Nugent got the field goal.

For the fifth time in six home games this season  the Bengals scored a touchdown in the first eight minutes when Dalton hit a wide-open Green in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass just 5:42 into the game to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead.

Green set up his first TD catch since he caught the winner in Pittsburgh Nov. 1 with his 14-yard grab on third-and-three when Dalton hit him on a crossing route that he finished off by bowling through a group of defenders for the last couple of yards.

Then on the next snap, Green lined up wide up left with Jenkins in press coverage, but Jenkins let Green go and he was wide open in the end zone.

Also big in the drive were Hill's longest run of the season, a 16-yarder up the middle behind fullback Ryan Hewitt in a two tight-end set, and a 15-yard screen pass to Eifert helped along by blocks from left guard Clint Boling and left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

On the Cincinnati defense's first third down of the game, Iloka came downhill unblocked on third-and-one and cut down Gurley for a three-yard loss and Johnny Hekker's 37-yard punt helped the Bengals start that first touchdown drive in good shape at their own 37.  

The Rams first- and second-year guards simply couldn't handle Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He blew up the Rams' second series when he dropped Gurley for a two-yard loss on second down to force a punt. Running back Tre Mason didn't have any better luck on the next series on first down when Atkins tracked him down in backfield for a two-yard loss. That set up a third-and-nine and the Bengals won that one when Kirkpatrick knocked away a pass over the middle intended for wide receiver Kenny Britt.

The Bengals held Gurley to a yard on his first four carries and the Rams had just three yards on their first seven carries.


 PRE-GAME NOTES:After missing last week's game in Arizona with a foot issue, Adam Jones drew the start again at cornerback for Sunday's game against the Rams at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals did put down one of their best run stuffers when defensive tackle Pat Sims missed his second straight game with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, two key starters were out for the Rams' second-ranked third-down defense in two-time Pro Bowl right end Robert Quinn and cornerback Trumaine Johnson, ranked 13th among NFL corners by Rams quarterback Case Keenum also went inactive, meaning Nick Foles is expected to go all the way.

Sunday's emphasis for the Bengals is stopping Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley, a 227-pounds load that has scored in five straight games and has four 100-yard games. Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko observed during the week that Gurley has all the characteristics one would put into a running back when building one on a Madden video game.

"He's big and he can run," Peko said. Joining Sims on the inactive are defensive end Margus Hunt, the three rookies who have yet to play in wide receiver Mario Alford, tight end C.J. Uzomah, defensive tackle Marcus Hardison, as well as rookie linebacker P.J. Dawson. Rookie tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, activated this week from injured reserve, was also inactive.

The biggest loss for the Rams may be kicker Greg Zuerlein, a 60-yard artist scratched with a groin injury and replaced at the last minute with a free agent signed Saturday, Zach Hocker. Zuerlein apparently aggravated the injury in Friday's practice.

Hocker, a seventh-round draft pick of Washington in 2014, made his NFL debut with New Orleans this season and was 1-for-3 between 40 and 49 yards and 1-for-2 from 50 and beyond. The Saints cut him after he missed from 51 and 48 against Atlanta on Oct. 15.

The woes for the Rams don't end there. They line up against Bengals' seven-sack defensive tackle Geno Atkins with right guard Cody Wichmann making his second NFL start at guard and left guard Demetrius Rhaney, a backup center, making his first NFL start at guard.

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