<
>

Jeremy Hill silences fantasy football critics, powers Bengals to victory

CINCINNATI -- It was clear on Thursday that Jeremy Hill had grown tired of hearing from fantasy owners who were upset about his lack of production. In the day of social media and finger-tip access to athletes, his Twitter account was getting slammed. That's why it was noteworthy on Thursday when Hill brought up, unprovoked, his rather tenuous connection to fantasy football this season, while expressing displeasure in his own early-season performance.

"At the end of the day, if my numbers aren't great or if they're not astonishing or if it's not helping people's fantasy teams, oh well," he said. "We're trying to win football games here. That's all that matters at the end of the day."

Well, on Sunday, Hill not only helped out his real-life team, rushing for a trio of touchdowns and converting a clutch two-point conversion, but he helped out his fantasy owners, too. On a day when the Bengals improved to 4-0, Hill was a big part of the story.

What it means: Cincinnati's 36-21 victory against the Chiefs means the Bengals are 4-0 for the fourth time in franchise history, and it greatly enhances their chances for returning to the playoffs this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the three previous years the Bengals began 4-0, they finished with 11 or more wins. The last time that happened was 2005, the first year that head coach Marvin Lewis led the team to the playoffs. Just as they have in each of the five playoff appearances since, the Bengals lost their first-round game that season. One of the other 4-0 season starts led to a 12-4 finish that resulted in a Super Bowl berth. The Bengals did all that in 1988. Will this win help propel them to their third league title game? Perhaps, but the Bengals do have a big test next Sunday, when the defending NFC champion Seahawks come to town.

What were they thinking? For the second straight week the Bengals found themselves at the center of a controversy surrounding a catch and the ground. Last week's play involved Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who was ruled to have lost possession, effectively negating a previously called touchdown. On Sunday's questionable play, a video review confirmed that Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin had caught a pass from quarterback Alex Smith. Although it was close, officials made the ruling because Maclin was believed to have established possession along the sideline before getting launched out of bounds by Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. Once Maclin landed, the ball popped out of his grasp. It isn't the officials that get the "What were they thinking?" blurb for the day, but the league deserves it for what appear to be its hard-to-define, inconsistent rules on what is and isn't a catch.

One reason to be excited: Folks in the Queen City ought to be excited in large part because it's a new month and quarterback Andy Dalton still is performing well. Even after his stellar September, Dalton opened October with a solid outing that included a touchdown pass and more than 300 passing yards against Kansas City. If he can keep this going, good things are in store for the Bengals.

One reason to panic: It should be concerning that the Bengals keep allowing opponents to tiptoe back into games during the second and third quarters. Just like last Sunday at Baltimore, the Bengals had a double-digit lead early in the second quarter before a series of penalties and miscues allowed Kansas City to make it a competitive game. An offense that stalled after a missed field goal and a punt couldn't make up for a Bengals defense that allowed four first-half field goals to bring the game to a 14-12 halftime score. While Cincinnati never lost its lead -- and the defense never gave up a touchdown -- there has to be concern the Bengals have had trouble pushing completely past early-season opponents.

Fantasy watch: As alluded to in the opening of this post, Hill was a fantasy owner's dream this week after he struggled through the first three games this year. Just how well did he do for fantasy owners? Hill earned 24 points (using ESPN's standard scoring system). His quarterback wasn't too bad himself. Dalton gave his owners 17 points.

Ouch: Adam Jones turned 32 last week. All season, he has been playing instead like a man in his mid-20s, running appropriately recklessly on kick returns and levying hard hits from cornerback. The aggressive style of play may be catching up to the veteran. After dealing with an elbow issue at Baltimore last week, he was completely run from Sunday's game with a second-half groin injury. With safety George Iloka already fighting through a hurt ankle, the Bengals' secondary could ill afford for Jones to be out any extended period of time.

Big-play Tate: Through the first three games, receiver Brandon Tate had basically been a special-teams-only standout, being featured on the punt- and kick-return teams. He hadn't even been targeted as a receiver. When that finally happened in the middle of the third quarter against the Chiefs, he came away with a timely reception that helped extend what had been a two-point Bengals lead. On the highlight-reel play of the game, Tate got behind Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith and stretched his body into a dive. After catching the ball, he had the presence of mind to get up before a Chiefs defender could touch him. With one more quick dive going across the goal line, Tate concluded the 55-yard touchdown reception.