The Cats' Meow: Cincinnati's Prime-Time Players
By Doug Orth
Despite their ineptitude in the NFL playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals are light years from being the dysfunctional team they used to be. Thanks to some good drafting in recent seasons, the franchise now has a few players that provide hope to a team that once had none.
It is often said that big-time players play biggest in big-time games. If that is truly the case, it only stands to reason that players who perform in those situations are “big-game” players. The problem for the Bengals, however, is despite their competitiveness in recent years (three playoff visits over the last four seasons), they have yet to win a playoff game. Moreover, Cincinnati has only three victories against opponents that finished the season better than .500 over the last two seasons – with one of those wins coming in a meaningless Week 17 game this season against the Baltimore Ravens where both teams had very little at stake. (The other two wins came against teams that finished 9-7.)
With that said, it is hard for a team like Cincinnati to make the postseason if certain players aren’t stepping up in the clutch to get it there in the first place. Therefore, we’ll take a look at the three Bengals –one each on offense, defense and special teams – who were equal to the task and at their best on the biggest stages the team has played on in recent years.
WR A.J. Green – The fact the focal point of the Bengals’ offense is a big-time and big-game player is hardly a shock. In fact, the few times in Green’s two-year that he has “struggled”, it would be easy to suggest that his own team took him out of the game – as has been the case in each of the two playoff losses to the Houston Texans. Green caught all seven of his targets for 83 yards against the Tennessee Titans – one of the two 9-7 teams – during the 2011 season and ignited the offense with seven receptions, 85 yards and a first-quarter touchdown in a Week 10 dismantling of the New York Giants – the other opponent that finished with a winning record – this season that sparked a four-game winning streak.
DT Geno Atkins – Atkins has been in the league three years and has already been named to two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team and set a franchise record for sacks by an interior lineman with 12.5. Even with all those accolades, he may still be the most underrated player in the NFL. While it is often difficult to accurately quantify the impact of a defensive lineman with traditional stats, Pro Football Focus gave Atkins a regular-season grade of 80 – nearly 50 points better than second-place defensive tackle Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to PFF, the 2010 fourth-round pick has logged just two “red” games (graded lower than -1.0) in his career. To put that in some kind of perspective, he ended the 2012 season with 16 straight “green” games (graded higher than 1.0).
K Josh Brown – It is very rare that a player can do enough over a five-week stretch to even be considered a big-game player. However, when incumbent kicker Mike Nugent sat out Week 14 with a calf injury, Brown stepped up with a 4-for-4 performance in his first game as a Bengal (a 20-19 loss to Dallas) before delivering a game-winning kick two weeks later against the Pittsburgh Steelers that clinched a playoff spot for the Bengals. He finished the season 13-of-14 and, although he could easily leave the team as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, he will likely end up back with the Bengals.