The last two seasons proved to be demoralizing and frustrating for the Cincinnati Bengals. Perhaps their most satisfying moment occurred in Week 17 when they made enough plays to keep the Baltimore Ravens out of the postseason.
Week 1 proved to be satisfying for the Bengals as well and with a short turnaround, they hope to keep the good vibes going Thursday night in their home opener against the Ravens.
During those long summer days of practice and even going back to minicamp in June, among the instructions the Bengals heard from their coaches involved them getting after any loose balls.
A ball flies loose and heads to the ground the Bengals marching orders are "scoop" as in pounce on the potential to create a turnover. While some variation of emphasis on turnovers always existed perhaps it was not as noticeable until this summer since the Bengals were coming off a second straight losing season and one where they ranked 31st in turnovers forced.
The focus on turnovers paid off in a big way Sunday when reserve safety Clayton Fejedelem pried the ball from Colts tight end Jack Doyle with 24 seconds left and sprinted 85 yards to put the finishing touches on a 34-23 victory.
"That was a four-quarter football game," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "Front to back, four quarters of football. We got into the fourth quarter, gained the lead and then held it. We did a nice job."
It was among two turnovers forced by the Bengals, who rallied from a 23-10 deficit by outscoring the Colts 24-0 over the final 23-plus minutes.
"I think from what we did in OTAs and training camp it's just kind of ingrained in us," linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. "We see a ball scoop and score there was a play earlier blown dead and we are still scooping and scoring. You never know what the ref is going to call. In that situation, Clayton made a hell of play, scooped to score it. That was huge."
Perhaps more impressive about turning a key focus of training camp into a comeback win were some of the obstacles new coordinator Teryl Austin's defense faced. The Colts out-snapped the Bengals 82-55, defensive captain Shawn Williams was ejected just 13 plays in for a late hit on quarterback Andrew Luck, Preston Brown was hampered by an ankle injury late in the first half and the defense was called for roughing Luck three times.
"It doesn't matter," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "We just take one drive at a time. We're not going to try and win the game on one series. We know we're going to put it together and do whatever it takes to get back in the game."
Now comes the tough part; attempting to follow it up with a short turnaround Thursday against the Ravens, who dominated their way to a 47-3 win over Buffalo.
"It looks like a typical Ravens team," Austin said. "They're going to run the ball, they're going to pound you, be physical, take shots down the field. On defense, they held Buffalo to three points. I'm sure they're probably playing defense like they know it over there."
Said Lewis, "I've watched them all preseason. As usual, they are well-put together. Joe Flacco played well, completing 73.5 percent of his passes. They were hot, they created turnovers, and they created field position. We're going to have our hands full come Thursday night."
SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 22-22. The Bengals have won eight of the last 11 meetings since a 44-13 loss in Baltimore on Sept. 10, 2012. Last season, the Bengals went into Baltimore and recorded a 31-27 victory in Week 17 that kept the Ravens out of the playoffs and allowed the Bills to qualify. The Bengals nearly blew a 17-3 lead but won the game on Andy Dalton's 49-yard pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds remaining.