AFC North: George Iloka

INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 26-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Lamenting injury losses: All season, the Bengals have harped on how they hated using injuries as excuses. But the fact is, had it not been for ailments to certain players at critical times of the season, perhaps the year would have ended differently. In addition to playing another game without Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals learned Saturday they would be without Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. Hours before Sunday's game, they found out Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham would be missing, too. Asked about how hard Green and Gresham's absences made things for the offense, receiver Mohamed Sanu said, "Extremely hard. When they [the Colts] have their best players playing and we have some of our best players missing, you can't do what we want to do."

Health a key to 2015? Sticking with the injury theme, rookie running back Jeremy Hill said the biggest change the Bengals needed to undergo in the offseason was simply getting healthy. In addition to the trio above, the Bengals also were without Marvin Jones -- their second-leading receiver in 2013 -- and tight end Tyler Eifert, among others, this year.

'Look at the Panthers': Like most Bengals, safety George Iloka was disappointed with the outcome of Sunday's game. He knows this loss will "resonate with longtime fans" who haven't seen a postseason win since January 1991. "It's also going to resonate with us," Iloka added. "Like they say, you're only as good as your last game." He added that it didn't necessarily matter how a team got to the postseason. It only mattered what the team did once it got there. "You've got to find a way to come out with the win," Iloka said. "Look at the Panthers. They're under .500 and they found a way to win." Carolina beat Arizona in Saturday's NFC wild-card round game after finishing the regular season 7-8-1.
CINCINNATI -- Nine of the 53 players on the Cincinnati Bengals' active roster weren't born the last time the franchise won a playoff game.

Most of the rest were either toddlers or young children living in scattered parts of the world with little sense about what was ahead for the organization they eventually would call their employer.

In fact, little did anyone who called the Queen City home back in January 1991 know that the run of postseason sporting success their Midwest city had enjoyed for two decades was about to end. Three months before, the Cincinnati Reds had just won the last World Series they have played in, and the Bengals were days away from their most recent playoff victory.

An entire generation has grown up in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky having missed out on a championship parade.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati skyline
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCincinnati is in a postseason drought that's lasted almost a generation.
Those are the people Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton contends he and his teammates are thinking about and playing for Sunday when they travel to Indianapolis for a wild-card round playoff game against the Colts. When the teams meet Sunday afternoon, the Bengals will be trying to put an end to a 24-year postseason win drought.

"We're not just doing this for us," Dalton said. "We're doing it for the whole city of Cincinnati."

After Sunday night's 10-point loss in the regular-season finale at Pittsburgh, a game that determined this year's AFC North champion, safety George Iloka said he was focused on winning something that would last a lifetime for himself and his team's fans. He sheepishly admitted he had no idea where the hat he received for the Bengals' 2013 AFC North championship was in his home. He figured it was somewhere collecting dust.

If the Bengals make to the Super Bowl and win, he knows his reward for that accomplishment won't be decaying in an obscure corner.

"We need to do something to get the fans back on our side," Iloka said. "Like I say, you wouldn't put your body out there on the line for what? Dollars? That means nothing, honestly. To me, it doesn't. You want to get some hardware. You want to get something that lasts forever. Dollars don't last forever. Division hats don't last forever.

"You want something that the fans will remember and that you'll remember from the playoffs."

He wants a Super Bowl ring.

"We owe that to these fans, we owe it to ourselves," Iloka said. "We've worked hard. The ownership. We owe [a win Sunday] to everybody."

Cornerback Adam Jones, who has been with the Bengals since 2010, a year they went 4-12, wants the city to finally earn a championship. But beyond that, he also wants one for himself.

"More important to the guys in this locker room who have been working 365 days, working hard to get it together, is to do something special," Jones said.

He was quick to point out that making it to the postseason four years in a row is special enough for many organizations. But like Iloka, Jones wants much more.

"We cherish the moment, enjoy the moment, but at this stage, for the guys who have been in the locker room going through hell and high water," Jones said, "we just need to win the game."

More than two million people who call the Cincinnati metropolitan area home would agree.

After loss, Bengals are 'On to Indy'

December, 29, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

'On to Indy:' Two Bengals took a page out of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's playbook minutes after Sunday night's loss when they cautioned an approaching reporter about the questions they were going to answer. Running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill made it clear they weren't in the mood of discussing the regular-season finale. Instead, they were training their minds and mouths for next Sunday's wild-card playoff game at Indianapolis. "We're on to Indy," both said twice. It was a reference to Belichick's "We're on to Cincinnati" quip that was made the week the Patriots were playing the Bengals, just days after they were embarrassed by the Chiefs, 41-14.

'Time to change it:' Already, the questions about the Bengals' lack of playoff victories are coming. And safety George Iloka has the same response to them as he did two weeks ago about the inquiries referencing the Bengals' struggles in prime time. Before the Bengals beat Denver on Monday and lost at Pittsburgh, they were 2-6 at night. They now are 3-7. "Like I said about the prime time -- if it's annoying, if it bugs you, you've got to change it," Iloka said. "If you don't like it, you've got to change it." The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season and are 0-5 in the postseason under Marvin Lewis.

Nelson's no comment: As players and coaches from both teams were shaking hands moments after Sunday's game, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin exchanged barbs. Nelson hit Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell low at the end of a 19-yard reception in the third quarter, and Bell hyperextended his right knee. Neither wanted to comment much about it after the game. In the Bengals' locker room, Nelson held his ground, rebuffing reporters who tried to sneak in questions about the fracas.

CINCINNATI -- The fourth-quarter clock ticked to the final three minutes.

With his Denver Broncos trailing the Cincinnati Bengals by two points, Peyton Manning went through a series of pre-snap audibles and fake audibles as he tried to lead a 51st career comeback drive.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick peeked to his right and saw Manning flash a sign that he had seen in his week of film study and preparation.

Kirkpatrick could tell that Manning was about to throw his way.

An inside route by Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas and an outside read from Kirkpatrick later, and Manning all but handed the third-year defensive back his second interception of the season. Kirkpatrick returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that pushed the Bengals' lead to two scores. It was the singular play that defined a just-good-enough defensive performance in the Bengals' playoff-clinching, 37-28 win Monday night.

"I'm not saying we knew what he was going to do," said Kirkpatrick, who picked Manning off a second time nearly two minutes later to ice the game. "[But] I kind of knew in a sense that he was coming my way. I just played my technique, and everything came my way."

Although they intercepted Manning four times and were dominant at times, the Bengals lacked consistency on defense, especially during a third quarter in which Denver scored three touchdowns to erase a 20-7 halftime deficit.

"Even if it appeared that we were [impressive], they still scored points," safety George Iloka said. "It wasn't pretty, but with a quarterback like a Peyton, [Tom] Brady, Aaron Rodgers, it's a battle. You've got to play all four quarters."

In the past 14 months, each of those quarterbacks have gone down at Paul Brown Stadium. And just like they did with Manning, who entered with an 8-0 career record against Cincinnati, the Bengals needed some stroke of magic in the final minute to beat the other two. Against Brady last October, the Bengals won when Adam Jones intercepted a pass that he bobbled to himself in a driving rainstorm near the Bengals' goal line.

Monday's finish was eerily similar, all the way down to the rain showers that descended upon the stadium in the fourth quarter. Manning's receivers had trouble catching the ball in the weather, repeatedly dropping his passes onto the slick field turf.

According to the Bengals, that's not all that changed in the fourth quarter.

"We just said, 'We're not going to be beat,' and as a secondary especially, we did good at keeping our poise," safety Reggie Nelson said. "We just didn't want to give the game away, period, because they've been down numerous times and came back on numerous teams."

What also changed was that at the end of the third quarter, the Bengals switched from veteran cornerback Terence Newman to Kirkpatrick following a series of passes in which Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders burned Newman. On consecutive series, Newman was beaten on a 33-yard completion that he also was flagged with defensive pass interference on, and a 46-yard completion.

Not long after, in came Kirkpatrick, who effectively finished the game at the left boundary corner position. His emergence off the bench gave the Bengals a timely and adequate jolt ahead of a win that put them in the postseason for a franchise-record fourth straight season.

"It's just what he does," Iloka said of Kirkpatrick. "He gets the job done and does it very well. I'm really proud of him. Like he always told y'all, he'll be ready when his time comes."

Some Bengals fans want his time to be now. They want him to start for Newman next week at Pittsburgh. That likely won't happen, but Kirkpatrick's time isn't far away.

"Good things come to those that wait," Kirkpatrick said.

Stop the run to stop Peyton Manning

December, 19, 2014
CINCINNATI -- It's the most odd formula for beating a quarterback the caliber of the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning, but it may be the Cincinnati Bengals' best hope for claiming a crucial 10th and playoff-clinching win.

The Bengals believe if they can stop the run and force Manning to pass, they will have a chance Monday night when the teams meet at Paul Brown Stadium.

An utterly absurd concept, right?

Maybe not.

"[That's] crazy to say with the quarterback they have," safety George Iloka said, "but you don't want them to have the running game and the passing game going."

It's all about forcing the Broncos into having a one-dimensional offense. If the Bengals can get the Broncos to pick an aspect of the game to lean on early, it could bode well for the home team by the end of the night.

With the way things have been going of late for Denver, it makes sense the Bengals would want to make the Broncos rely on their passing attack -- as bizarre as that might sound. One reason why? Because, across the past three games, Manning hasn't passed as well as he did in the first 11.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning has averaged 15.7 fewer passing attempts in the past three games than in the first 11. He also has thrown for 128.5 yards per game less in the past three weeks than he had at earlier points this season.

Manning's accuracy has been an issue, too, particularly overthrows and under-throws. Per Stats & Information, his off-target passing percentage skyrocketed in recent weeks from 16 percent across the first 11 games to 27 percent in the past three. That accounts for the second-worst off-target passing percentage in the league across that stretch. Only Colin Kaepernick's 33 percent is worse.

The veteran quarterback also has had problems inside the opposing 20. After leading the league in red-zone completion percentage, touchdown passes and total QBR in his first 11 games, he ranks outside the top-20 qualified signal-callers in those same categories the past three games.

Inside the red zone, his completion percentage has nosedived from 77.8 percent the first 11 games to 42.1 percent in the last three. Also, after averaging two red-zone touchdowns a game in the first 11, Manning has averaged just 0.3 in the last three. Part of those drop-offs could be attributed to tight end Julius Thomas missing three games due to an ankle injury and getting used in a limited capacity last week against San Diego.

While the Broncos' passing numbers have gone down, their rushing numbers have soared. Since Week 12, they lead the league in rushes (148) and rushing yards (659). Running back C.J. Anderson has been the ground game's spark, gaining more than 160 yards in two of the four games in that stretch. That's yet another compelling reason why the Bengals must focus on shutting down the run early.

"You stop the run in November and December, it puts your team in a good position," Iloka said.

Hey, it did work last week against the Browns. After rushing 52 times in a 21-point win over the Bengals in November, Cleveland could only muster 53 yards on 17 carries in last week's 30-0 Cincinnati win. The game plan: stop the run to stop Johnny Manziel.

Do the same thing this week, and maybe, just maybe, the Bengals can beat Manning for the first time in his career.
CINCINNATI -- When it comes to addressing a rival ahead of a pivotal game that has major playoff implications, Marvin Lewis could take a lesson or two from one of his players.

Hours before the Cincinnati Bengals coach used poor taste in attempting to joke on the radio about the difficulty in slowing the smaller-in-stature Johnny Manziel, safety George Iloka smartly navigated reporters' questions Monday about the Bengals' motivations for this Sunday following last month's 21-point loss at home on national television to the Cleveland Browns.

 Did Iloka view this weekend's game at First Energy Stadium as payback for the sound beatdown the Browns administered?


"I don't look at as payback. I look at it as they're an opponent, and we need to win," Iloka said. "We're only a half-game up. I don't look at it as it being payback. I just look at it as they're a good team."

Smart answer. Correct answer, at least, publicly. Privately ought to be a different matter. If they want to win, the Bengals better go into this game with a chip on their shoulder for the embarrassment they suffered at home to a team that's currently mired in a quarterback controversy, and one that also holds the fourth and final spot in the ultra-competitive AFC North standings.

On the heels of last Sunday's 42-21 loss at home to the Steelers, in which the suddenly punchless bunch gave up 25 unanswered fourth-quarter points, the Bengals better play with the same "smart bully" swagger they wanted to be known for having in the early part of the season.

Even if quarterback Andy Dalton says in front of the cameras (like he did Monday) that he, too, doesn't view this game any differently because it's the Browns, deep down, he better. If any player ought to want to bounce back after the team's atrocious showing against Cleveland last month it ought to be him. Dalton set a career-low in completions (10) and finished with a 2.0 passer rating that was the worst for a quarterback in a single game in 31 years.

Privately, he also better be focused on winning for January's sake. If he does, he keeps giving himself chances to shut down the narrative about his postseason play. Dalton still hasn't won a playoff game after three postseason trips his first three seasons. He's hoping Year 4 goes differently.

In addition to being asked about retribution, Iloka was questioned about preparing for Browns quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. Again, Lewis might want to take notes.

"We've probably got to prepare for both," Iloka said. "Obviously with Johnny Manziel they have a few different things in their offense they can do because he's probably faster than Hoyer. But they've still got to run the same routes. They still have the same receivers and tight ends and running backs and offensive line. They'll change up a little bit, but we'll prepare for both of them."

End of sentence, end of quote. That's all Lewis had to say.
CINCINNATI -- Visit practice on a football field at any level during the preseason and you'll hear the same word shouted multiple times.


It's the call sounded by coaches hellbent on getting players to run through routes and drills, and to make it through plays until long after the whistle sounds.

The repeated pleas have a deeper meaning, though. Sunday afternoon inside Paul Brown Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals didn't live up to it.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals couldn't stop Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers in the fourth quarter.
"That's what coaches all the way from high school talk about -- finish the drill, finish the drill," safety George Iloka said. "That's the metaphor. Finish the drill means finish the game."

For three quarters against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals were great. With a 21-20 lead at the start of the final period, they had momentum and the ball and looked like they were going to emerge with a fourth-straight win.

But a fumble on a faked read-option hand off turned into a turnover, which turned into a Steelers score. And another. And another.

After the fumble and three touchdowns later, the Bengals lost, 42-21. It was the first time they had lost a second consecutive game at Paul Brown Stadium by 21 or more points since 2002, when current Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was Cincinnati's head coach.

Following the fumble Sunday, it seemed like the fourth quarter simply got by the Bengals and everything snowballed in the wrong direction.

First, it was Le'Veon Bell who capitalized on the fumble by scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run on Pittsburgh's possession that immediately followed the turnover. Three minutes later, Martavis Bryant blew past Bengals corner Leon Hall on a play-action go route that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made sure to throw long.

"They showed a coverage and I didn't believe them," Roethlisberger said of the Bengals' defense. "We did a little play-action and just let it fly. I've underthrown him in practice because when he gets running, he's fast. I just put it out there, let him run under it, and he did the rest."

After Bryant's score, Bell added a 22-yard touchdown run that proved to be the final backbreaking score. Of Pittsburgh's 543 yards of total offense, 229 came in the fourth quarter.

"I can't tell the psyche of everybody individually, but I just know on a collective whole we just didn't finish," Iloka said.

With three games still left on the regular season schedule and the Bengals still enjoying a lead -- albeit a slim one at a half game -- in the AFC North, some weren't too broken up about the lack of finishing.

"One quarter of football doesn't define our season," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "We don't worry about the ending score of games. We worry about whether we won. That's the only thing they keep track of. That'll be important: to bounce back and win the next three games by a half a point or by 30. I don't care. To win and go 3-0 [the next three weeks], we can put ourselves in position of where we want to be."
CINCINNATI -- Ben Roethlisberger surveyed the defense and told himself not to believe what the Cincinnati Bengals were showing.

That is why the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback stuck with the pass play that offensive coordinator Todd Haley called even though he had the option of changing it to a run.

And it was exactly the kind of derring-do that coach Mike Tomlin wanted to see from his quarterback, even with the Steelers backed up on their own 6-yard line at a critical juncture of the AFC North game.

“We just were not going to live in our fears today,” Tomlin said. “We needed to be aggressive and create some splash. It worked out for us.”

Did it ever.

Martavis Bryant blew past Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, and Roethlisberger hit the rookie wide receiver in stride for the longest play (94 yards) in a game that was full of them.

The second-longest pass play in Steelers history propelled Pittsburgh to the 42-21 win that only added intrigue to the most compelling division in the NFL.

It came after punter Kevin Huber pinned the Steelers inside their 10-yard line with just under nine minutes left to play in a 28-21 game.

Bryant, who had gone from rookie sensation to just plain rookie in the Steelers’ previous two games, caught Hall looking for the run, and he ran a simple go route. Strong safety George Iloka had strayed too far to the middle of the field to do anything but join Hall in a futile chase of Bryant.

“I knew it was coming,” Bryant said with a grin. “It was just a perfect call.”

Tomlin called it “Football 101.”

“[Defenses] are usually aggressive when you’re backed up and they want to keep you backed up,” Tomlin said after the win that allowed the Steelers to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens and put them percentage points behind the Bengals in the AFC North. “Opportunities are usually there. It’s more about whether you are willing to take the risk.”

Roethlisberger took the risk even after the Bengals cornerbacks played off the Steelers receivers and their safeties stayed back before the snap.

Roethlisberger called Cincinnati’s bluff, and after a play-action fake that left Hall flat-footed and moved Iloka too far out of position for the strong safety to provide any help, Bryant made the easy catch-and-run that defined their offensive explosion after a scoreless first quarter.

“I didn’t quite believe that the safety was not going to come down [in run support],” Roethlisberger said. “Either I got lucky or saw something right.”

There were plenty of smiles in the Steelers’ locker room after their most impressive road win of the season. There was some sandbagging, too.

Antonio Brown, who had yet another 100-yard receiving game, was asked how teams know that the ball is going to him and running back Le'Veon Bell and can’t stop either, and the two-time Pro Bowler smiled.

“Luck,” he said.

The Bengals know better.

They also can attest that if the Steelers’ other skill players take advantage of their opportunities, as Bryant did with an exclamation point, that Pittsburgh’s offense could be the difference in a division that is a three-team race with three weeks to play.

“They get the headlines and do a lot for us,” Tomlin said of Brown and Bell, “but the other guys step up and answer the bell when their number is called. That creates a level playing field for Brown and Bell to both continue doing what they need to do.”
CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton may struggle in prime-time, posting a 2-9 career record in night and playoff games. But in December, he's apparently a sight to behold.

Since 2011, the year Dalton became their starter at quarterback, the Cincinnati Bengals are 10-4 in the month. That strong record has been one way to explain the Bengals' three straight postseason berths. Quite simply, they have demonstrated in recent years an ability to get hot at the right time.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesAndy Dalton has an impressive December winning percentage.
The big problem, though, is that play doesn't carry over. They don't capitalize upon it and use it once January rolls around and the playoffs arrive. As has been the case each of the last two years, they hope this one will be different.

At the start of a month that features three division games, beginning with Sunday's home showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals this week discussed what "December football" means to them:

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator
"It's winning time. This is when you grow. This is when the real players show up, because this is an opportunity to really make something special happen. The great football players, this is when you get lathered up. People remember what you do in December. That's the old term. December, January football is where it's at and our guys understand that. You give yourself the opportunity to get to this month to really earn something and collectively, as a football team, we've kind of done our part. Not as well as I'd have liked for us to do it, but we've gotten to this point to where now it's time to push to make sure we get this thing done correctly."

A.J. Green, receiver
"Anything before this really doesn't matter. It's what you do in December. You try to make some big plays and see who can get on a hot streak."

Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle
"Every game left is a huge one. This time of year, this is when teams create an opportunity to separate themselves and really have to come out and prove who they are. I said it last week that even the teams with really bad records this time of year are good football teams because they've found a way to right the ship or figured out 'Hey, this is what we're going to have to do to have a chance of winning.

"We understand the impact that games in December have, so we're able to handle them well. It's a unique thing, and the more and more success you have, the more used to it you are and it becomes natural to understanding what's at stake."

George Iloka, safety
"A lot of teams call it 'championship football.' You want to start separating yourself in December to put yourself in position to make the playoffs and make a run in the playoffs. It's very important. We don't want to slack off and have some bad games. We want to keep improving and putting ourselves in position to hopefully win the division and then from there make amends for last year's playoffs [when the Bengals lost in the first round]."

PFF reviews the Bengals' Week 10 loss

November, 10, 2014
CINCINNATI -- As we begin this week, we'll take one final look back at the Cincinnati Bengals' revolting performance in last Thursday's blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns. We'll do so through the lens of our friends at Pro Football Focus.

Let's take a quick peek at some of the ways PFF analyzed and examined Cincinnati's Week 10 game.

As always, take the grades and notes you see below with a certain grain of salt, as they can end up being amended. Bad grades also can sometimes simply be the product of particular schemes, coverage or formations a team happens to employ in a respective week based upon the opponent.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following Thursday's 24-3 loss:

  • Britt
    The Bengals' offensive line continues to be anchored by veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was one of the few bright spots on a rough night overall for the line. As he held the left edge, Whitworth allowed just one hurry on 47 blocking attempts, according to PFF. He leads all offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency with a 99.0 percentage.
  • Right guard Kevin Zeitler also had an impressive night, returning for the first time in two weeks and playing all 68 snaps. He and left guard Clint Boling were given plus-1.8 overall grades.
  • As well as Whitworth, Zeitler and Boling played, rookie center Russell Bodine and backup right tackle Marshall Newhouse didn't play so well. Newhouse specifically had a rough game, amassing a minus-6.6 overall grade from PFF. As he filled in for the injured Andre Smith, Newhouse allowed three quarterback hurries, one quarterback hit, a sack and had two penalties.
  • A byproduct of the pressure Newhouse allowed was that quarterback Andy Dalton was nowhere close to as sharp as he could be. Dalton, Newhouse's former TCU teammate, had the worst overall grade of his career, as PFF handed him a minus-7.7. That went along with his career-low passer rating of 2.0.
  • Dalton was pressured on just 11 of his 37 dropbacks. On the 26 dropbacks in which he faced no pressure, though, Dalton played terribly. He was just 8-for-25 for 60 yards and two interceptions on those dropbacks, per PFF. Much of his negative overall grade came from those non-pressured plays.
  • Dalton struggled between the numbers as well, going 7-for-17 for 71 yards and three interceptions when he directed passes into the middle of the field.
  • Rookie running back Jeremy Hill, playing in place of the injured Giovani Bernard, had a tough time getting yards, collecting just 55 on 12 carries. Of those 55 yards, 33 came after initial contact, meaning there weren't very many holes present for him.
  • Hill ended up forcing three missed tackles. On 101 touches this season, he has forced 18 missed tackles total, good enough for a 42.1 elusive rating.
  • Only two defensive notes from PFF jump out. The first involves safety George Iloka, who continues to impress this season. He had three run stops -- it's never a good sign when your safeties are recording tackles on runs; it's a sign of breakdowns against the run at the defensive line -- and recorded a quarterback hit on his lone pass rush. He also had a pass defense on the one pass that came into his area of coverage.
  • Defensive end Wallace Gilberry was surprisingly a source of the line issues in run defense. PFF credited him with missing a tackle and not having a single run stop. He had chances, too. Gilberry was on the field for 36 of the 52 running plays the Browns had.
videoCINCINNATI -- Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals are now 4-2-1 and have a measure of momentum thanks in large part to quarterback Andy Dalton's 1-yard sneak into the end zone entering the game's final minute.

But they very easily could be 3-3-1 had it not been for a penalty that at least one Bengal considered "a great call."

With 32 seconds left on the game clock -- 25 seconds after Dalton fell forward for what would be the game-winning score -- Ravens receiver Steve Smith and Bengals safety George Iloka made contact near Cincinnati's sideline as a long pass from Joe Flacco closed in on Smith's hands.

After getting separation from Iloka, Smith jumped and caught the pass before sprinting away from desperate Bengals tackle attempts, and into the end zone. In lightning-quick fashion, he had just answered the Bengals' touchdown with one of his own. He propelled Baltimore forward with a go-ahead score that snatched the air out of Paul Brown Stadium. A mix of shock, fear, awe and anger started to fill the stands as fans let loose a chorus of boos.

They were interrupted.

There, sitting on the ground not far from Iloka was a late-thrown flag from the official closest to the play. He had seen why Smith was able to go up for the ball uncontested, even though Iloka was right there on him after dropping down from Cover 2 on Smith's vertical route.

"He had two hands on my chest. He knocked me off," Iloka said. "You can't do that. I was getting ready for a jump ball. I'm 6-3, about 220 [pounds]. I was like, 'There ain't no way he's going to out-jump me for the ball.' He knocked me off."

That's apparently what the referee saw as the smaller-in-stature Smith got free for the reception.

"Ultimately, you hope you don't allow plays like that to dictate the determination of a win or loss," Smith said. "So, it happens. I'm not disappointed, not upset, not frustrated, just exhausted and looking forward to the opportunity to play next week."

The Ravens go to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

If Iloka were grading officials, it's safe to say he would be giving the one who threw the flag in question bonus points.

"You know how they do their grading sheets and grade the refs, they better give him a double-plus on that one," Iloka said. "That was a great call. It takes guts to make that call.

"You've got to jump straight up, is what we were told in the offseason. I can't prohibit the receiver from jumping for it and he can't prohibit me. That's what I felt, and that's what the ref felt, and he called it."

After the penalty, the Ravens were backed up to their own 10 on third-and-20. In four-down territory, they were unable to convert a first down on the next two plays and turned the ball over to the Bengals who had one kneel-down to preserve the 27-24 win.
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Baltimore Ravens:
  • Jackson
    Putting pressure on the line: After an abysmal offensive performance last week at Indianapolis (12 rushes for 32 yards), Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wanted to ensure his unit would be more physical Sunday against the Ravens. In the days leading up to the game, he raised the pressure on his offensive line. "Hue called us out all week and said this was going to be up to us," Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth told after the game. "He said we were going to win or lose the game based off of how physical we could be up front." The Bengals rushed for 111 yards on 34 carries and plowed behind the line on Andy Dalton's game-winning 1-yard quarterback sneak.
  • End drives with kicks: Head coach Marvin Lewis was notably more relieved during Sunday's postgame than he had been at any point all week. During his news conference, he shared the discussion he had with Dalton coming out of halftime. It was the same message he would have shared going into the Bengals' final drive had he spoken to Dalton: "[Former Ohio State coach] Jim Tressel told me this a long time ago: If each possession ends in your kick, you'll be in good shape. That's your job as a quarterback -- make your possession end in a kick."
  • Iloka defends penalty: As reporters huddled around him in the locker room after the win, safety George Iloka defended the offensive pass interference call that negated a potential Ravens touchdown on Baltimore's final drive of the game. "Why would I fall this way?" Iloka asked rhetorically as he stepped backward into his locker. "I was just getting ready for a jump ball, and I wasn't allowed to jump with whatever [receiver Steve Smith] did. It knocked me off." Before the flag was thrown, Smith got separation before catching the ball and finishing off an 80-yard touchdown reception with 32 seconds left. The flag pushed the Ravens back to their 10, two plays before a turnover on downs.
  • "No excuses": According to linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who spoke very briefly at his locker after the game, the motto of the day for the Bengals' defense was: "No excuses." "We played all together," he said. "There was no finger-pointing. Everybody was accountable." During the Bengals' three-game winless streak, some defenders had literally been seen pointing fingers at others who didn't fulfill certain responsibilities after key plays.

Bengals' Week 5 loss by the numbers

October, 7, 2014
CINCINNATI -- As we start putting the proverbial bow on the Cincinnati Bengals' fourth ballgame of the year, here is a by-the-numbers look at their 43-17 loss to the New England Patriots:

9: Number of scoring plays the Bengals allowed Sunday. They permitted five field goals, two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and a special teams touchdown off a fumble recovery.

0: Percentage of third downs the Bengals converted on offense. They went 0-for-7 on third down. This was the second time since 2001 that the Bengals hadn't converted a third down in a single game. The last time it happened, in 2007, they also played the Patriots.

38: Percentage of third downs the Bengals' defense allowed the Patriots to convert. New England went 6-for-16 on third down. The Patriots also converted one fourth down.

505: Number of yards the Bengals' defense allowed the Patriots to collect.

6.7: Number of yards per play the Bengals averaged, 0.5 yards more than the Patriots' 6.2 average.

4.4: Number of yards per carry the Bengals averaged on the ground, just 0.1 yards shy of the offense's 4.5 yards per carry average.

12: Number of penalties the Patriots had. They collected 114 yards in penalties.

2: Number of carries for Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. He had seven the game before against Tennessee, and 15 the week before that against Atlanta.

117.4: Passer rating for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

110.7: Passer rating for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

22.6: Dalton's QBR rating in prime-time games throughout his career (he's now 2-5 in such games).

3: Number of passes Dalton completed for 30 or more yards.

47: Number of yards on Adam Jones' third-quarter punt return that set up a 37-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Mohamed Sanu.

11: Number of passes the Patriots completed to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright. New England completed 12 passes to six other players.

3: Number of fumbles the Bengals lost.

9: Number of tackles Bengals safety George Iloka and linebacker Rey Maualuga had, leading all tacklers in the game.

21:30: Number of minutes the Patriots had the football in the second half. They won the time of possession battle in every quarter.

8:30: Number of minutes the Bengals had the football in the second half.

6: Consecutive losses for the Bengals in Sunday night games.

156: Number of yards the Patriots' ballcarriers had before contact. They rushed for 220 yards overall.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.
CINCINNATI -- If you have already jumped off the Cincinnati Bengals' once-growing bandwagon, two players have a message for you.

Stay off.

Safety George Iloka and veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth weren't very happy Monday afternoon when asked to discuss concerns related to fans who had already given up on the team after Sunday night's disappointing 43-17 loss at New England.

Comments on social media during yet another Bengals loss in a prime-time, nationally televised game had many of the team's most loyal supporters questioning their faith in this year's group, even after the promising 3-0 start that made Cincinnati one of two unbeatens left standing.

"Let them jump off," Iloka said. "I'm not worried about the people who jump off. We don't want them as fans anyway."

Sunday's loss made the Bengals 2-5 in prime-time games since 2011 and dropped their franchise record to 3-13 in Sunday night games. They still haven't won a Sunday night game since 2004.

Much like the Bengals, the Patriots had their own experience with a blowout loss just last week. In the days that immediately followed last Monday night's 41-14 loss at Kansas City, the Patriots heard from fans who were starting to give up on them and their future Hall of Fame quarterback who led them to three Super Bowl victories. A pall settled over New England, and many questioned if the Patriots could even show up against the Bengals.

Less than 15 minutes into Sunday's game, the Patriots made it clear that they not only would survive the Bengals, but that they would pummel them. The Patriots of old were back, and their fearless leader, Tom Brady, was in the good graces of his fan base once again. At times during his 292-yard, two-touchdown passing performance at Gillette Stadium, Brady's exploits caused fans to loudly chant his name. It was a completely different reaction from earlier in the week.

"We look to the Patriots, how they came out and lost on Monday night in prime time and saw all their fair-weather fans jump off the bandwagon," Iloka said. "They're probably back on after they beat us. So we look to them and see how they came out, and we hope to do the same things on Sunday and beat the Panthers."

Cincinnati hosts Carolina at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Initially, Whitworth didn't want to address a question about his response to Bengals fans abandoning the team.

"They didn't come to the games when we were 3-0, so I don't know what to say to them," he began, citing the Bengals' lack of home sellouts in Week 2 and 3.

"That stuff's just garbage," Whitworth continued. "I'm not worried about the fans or the media or any of that crap. We need to go play well and win. The same people thought Tom Brady should quit football and retire from the NFL a week ago, so I bet they don't think that now. There's a lot of people [who] are reaping what they sowed in their comments last week about the New England Patriots, and now the team that was what everyone considered the hottest team [the Bengals], they beat the snot out of. So what does everybody have to say now?

"That's football. Every week you have to show up and play your best, and if you don't, you're going to get beat. That's NFL football, and that's why even with the best team in the league and the worst team in the league, there's not much difference as people would like to think."

And there's nothing a win wouldn't solve for Whitworth, Iloka and all their fans, die-hard and fair-weather alike.