Bengals (9-4) at Buccaneers (6-7), Sunday, Dec. 18 at Raymond James Stadium (natural grass), 4:25 p.m. ET, TV: WKRC-TV Ch. 12, CBS national, (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson), Radio: 700 WLW, WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530, (Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham)
CINCINNATI – In between two-game homestands, the Bengals now begin a fascinating two-game road trip that starts against New England’s former superstar quarterback and ends in Foxboro on Christmas Eve against the current Patriots.
Tom Brady will no doubt try to pick on fellow Michigan alum Dax Hill, a rookie who is expected to get his first start at nickel corner with both Mike Hilton (knee) and Jalen Davis (thumb) out for Sunday when the Bengals come calling. The Bengals have beaten Brady just once in eight previous meetings, with that one coming in the monsoon at the end of the 13-6 victory on Oct. 6, 2013. Brady is 4-0 against Cincinnati on his home turf.
As a matter of fact, the Bengals are projected to play a pair of rookies in the secondary, with Cam Taylor-Britt getting his seventh straight start. Britt played a major role in last week’s defensive effort against Deshaun Watson, breaking up a key fourth-down pass for Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Brady played just one series in the 2021 preseason opener against the Bengals, when Joseph Ossai sacked him and forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening series. The Bengals beat the Bucs in that game, 19-14.
Cincinnati has won five straight contests for the first time since 2015, and is coming off a 23-10 victory over Cleveland in Week 14 that saw the Bengals snap a five-game losing skid against their in-state rival.
The Bengals now prepare for Brady and a Buccaneers passing attack that ranks fifth in the NFL (265.7 yards per game). On the defensive side, Tampa Bay is allowing just 195.3 passing yards per game, good for sixth in the league. Cincinnati has already beaten three NFC South teams this season in New Orleans (Week 6), Atlanta (Week 7) and Carolina (Week 9), and has a chance to sweep an NFC division for the first time since going 4-0 against the NFC North in 2005.
While the Bengals are dealing with injuries to Hayden Hurst, Hendrickson and Hilton (all ruled OUT), the Bucs may be in equally tough shape. Defensive tackle Vita Vea hasn’t practiced all week with a calf injury. Four of the five starting defensive backs are dealing with injuries.
The Bengals are expected to get the services back of receivers Tyler Boyd (left middle finger) and Tee Higgins (hamstring), both of whom were lost in the opening minutes of last Sunday’s win over Cleveland.
Tee Higgins confirms he's good for Sunday pic.twitter.com/FGM4bhL7QI
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 16, 2022
Though Cincinnati’s offense, which had strung together several impressive performances in previous weeks, did not find a rhythm until the second quarter, the defense had a dominant showing and held Cleveland’s rushing attack to just 71 yards for the afternoon.
“We settled in and found a way to move the ball, and that’s really because our defense allowed us to,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “They gave us the time by limiting the points off the board to let our offense find a way to take that lead. It was really a good team effort of finding a way to win in December in a divisional game.”
The Bengals defense has frustrated some of the NFL’s top playmakers over its past three games. In Week 12 at Tennessee, the unit held Derrick Henry, who entered with the league’s most rushing yards, to just 38 yards on 17 carries. The following game vs. Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes threw for a season- low 223 yards and was sacked twice, while Travis Kelce had just 56 receiving yards and committed a game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter. Last week, Browns running back Nick Chubb came into Sunday’s game at Paycor Stadium averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but was bottled up by the Cincinnati defensive line for 2.4 (34 yards on 14 attempts).
Leading the effort for the Bengals was their two starting defensive tackles, DJ Reader and B.J. Hill. Reader, who is gaining acclaim as one of the league’s top run-stoppers, had five solo tackles and batted down a pass at the line for the fourth time in the last three games. Hill swatted down a pass as well and totaled three tackles. The duo also opened lanes for LB Logan Wilson to make plays throughout the afternoon, as the third-year pro collected a career-high 17 tackles (14 solos) with a half-sack.
The offense broke through on its fourth drive of the game, when a series of defensive penalties on Cleveland set up Cincinnati at the Browns’ 30. Joe Burrow capitalized on the opportunity with a pinpoint 15-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase, who was double-covered and admitted he didn’t know the ball was coming his way until it was already in his hands.
“Fortunately, when Ja’Marr doesn’t think he’s getting the ball, he’s still the best receiver in the league,” Burrow quipped.
The secondary stepped up with key plays, including safety Jessie Bates, who recorded his third interception of the season when he stepped in front of a deep pass from Deshaun Watson that would have put the Browns in Cincinnati territory. The final two possessions saw the Bengals force a turnover on downs, highlighted by a pass breakup by Taylor-Britt on a fourth-and- goal from the Cincinnati six-yard line.
“Those guys come in and they’re ready for downhill, physical games like that,” said Mixon on the defense’s performance. “They show up each and every week. Every opposing back, they’ve pretty much been imposing their will on the offense. I’m very glad for the defense. They showed up today.
Tom Brady will come out desperate with a point to prove after getting humiliated against the team he grew up rooting for, 35-7, at San Francisco. Brady will target Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Chris Godwin early and often. Rookie Rachaad White has supplanted Leonard Fournette as the feature back and Ke’Shawn Vaughn has passed former Bengal Gio Bernard as a third-down back. Whoever it is, the Bucs will want to respond early for Brady and show him they’ve got his back. The Bengals must withstand this push. If they do, they have as much on offense as the Niners showed and should be able to put points on the board. Bengals keep it close and pull away late, avoiding the kind of comeback Brady pulled off just two weeks against Andy Dalton and New Orleans.
Bengals 30, Bucs 23