It hardly ever happens. For just the second time in Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ 14 seasons he faces one of his assistants running his own team. And it’s the first time a former Bengals offensive coordinator comes in with his own team since Bruce Coslet led the Jets into Riverfront Stadium for the 1990 opener. Not only that, Hue Jackson, Lewis’ close friend he entrusted with four jobs in seven seasons, reportedly talks to the Bengals about staying before this season as Lewis’ successor before the Browns lure him north and keep him in the division. But when Jackson arrives today with his bottomless bag of gadgets, his former student delivers the final toy. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who has his career year under Jackson last season as an MVP candidate, oversees a big-play offense that includes a 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to A.J. Green at the half-time gun and a 74-yard touchdown run by running back Jeremy Hill in a 31-17 victory over Cleveland. The 3-4 Bengals stop a two-game losing streak and have a chance to crawl within a game of the Steelers in the AFC North by breaking 30 points for the first time this season with Hill’s first 100-yard game since the final game of his rookie season in 2014 with a career-high 168 yards that was part of their best team rushing effort in nearly 16 years with 271. Dalton tips his hat to Jackson with a 308-yard day, a 128.3 passer rating, and two TD passes of 40-plus throws as the Bengals fire up their most yards in 26 years with 559. Dalton averages more than 11 yards per throw, the first time a Bengals quarterback has done that in a game since Boomer Esiason did it in that 1990 season.
But it is the torrid Green on a 1,771-yard pace, that swipes the spotlight from Dalton and Jackson. ”Let’s face it. In this league hopefully every team has a few stars. He’s a bright, bright star,” says veteran tackle Eric Winston. “We have to keep finding ways to get him the ball. That Hail Mary catch was unbelievable, but so was the (48-yarder) down the sideline. But he does it all the time.” His third 150-yard plus game with a touchdown this season gives him nine in his career, tying him for the lead on the active list with Steve Smith Sr. and Andre Johnson. Green yanks the tipped ball out of a maze of four Browns with one hand and pulls it into his body to give the Bengals a 21-10 half-time lead. “I tipped it to myself. I felt it twice off my fingertips a little bit. It was pretty sweet,” Green says. “It was going be a gut check. We were down two four. We can’t go to 2-5.” “The explosive runs were amazing for this offense,” says wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who has an acrobatic 44-yard touchdown catch himself. “It shows you how much things spread out. They start putting extra guys in the box and we were able to take shots.”
But leave it to Jackson to come up with a wrinkle the Bengals defense needs time to smooth out. Midway through the second quarter he loses rookie quarterback Cody Kessler with a concussion and has to turn to his sixth quarterback this season. And Stanford rookie Kevin Hogan, making his first NFL appearance, proves to be puzzling for the Bengals, particularly early on and his zig-zag 28-yard scramble for a touchdown on a slew of missed tackles that cuts the Bengals’ lead to 21-17 with 10:43 left in the third quarter. Hogan ends up with 104 yards on seven carries, the first quarterback to rush for 100 yards against the Bengals since Carolina’s Cam Newton two years ago. Late in the game Jackson hands the head sets to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but the Bengals know Jackson tested their limits. “Coach Hue Jackson did a great job,” says linebacker Vincent Rey… “We were ready for the offensive tackles to be lined up on the numbers. We were ready for that. But all of a sudden we’ve got three backs back there with the quarterback running zone read with two backs and three backs. We’re like, ‘Man, read your keys, but where do I fit?’ You just can’t go out there and say you’re going to run those guys over. It’s a thinking man’s game. So he did a good job with that. He might have had 100 yards rushing.” Hogan does. But the Bengals get a 300-yard passer and 100-yard receiver and rusher for the first time since that tie with Carolina.