Physical in all phases, Bengals show how dominant they can be

CLEVELAND -- This one was for the nationally televised embarrassment at Paul Brown Stadium last month.

It was for all the reporters and talking heads who spent more time this week talking about Johnny Manziel and a host of comments involving him -- both controversial and not -- than the men charged to defend him.

It was for the Nugent family, and the Jackson one, too.

It was for the playoffs.

While the rest of the NFL spent the past seven days discussing the various ways the Cleveland Browns might be motivated to beat their bitter rivals to the south, very little was said about what might be driving the Cincinnati Bengals as they sought a key late-season AFC North victory.

Turns out, they had a lot more boiling underneath the surface than was initially apparent.

Playing loose, yet aggressive and with the exact physicality that long has been a hallmark of play in the AFC North, the Bengals exacted revenge, silenced critics and maintained a slim division lead. In their most complete win of the season, a 30-0 road blowout, it was evident how downright dominant they can be.

Credit a meeting in Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's office for making it possible.

A day after they had been informed Jackson's father died, running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill were called into the coach's office Wednesday. He told them he was changing up the running back rotation. Bernard was no longer the starter. The second-year rusher was being replaced by the bigger, slightly more physical Hill.

The rookie didn't disappoint.

"Once Hue let me know what my role was going to be and how much the team was going to depend on me this week, I really took it on myself to really embellish that and really take that in and really just take advantage of it," Hill said. "I knew we were going to have to run the football to be successful."

The Bengals ran 45 times for 244 yards in a performance that mimicked the Brown's 52-carry performance in a 24-3 win against the Bengals on a Thursday night in Cincinnati last month. Hill was the bell cow Sunday, gaining 148 yards on 25 carries. The game's first drive was marked by his six carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run.

"The defense fed off that," offensive guard Kevin Zeitler said.

Cincinnati forced a three-and-out on the Browns' ensuing possession. The one after that, Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry got quickly in the backfield and brought down Manziel for the first of many stops on the rookie quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. In his first career start, Manziel had trouble avoiding striped helmets.

"This ain't college. This is the NFL," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "You don't have college kids chasing you. You've got some grown men that have kids and who are out here trying to feed their families. It's a lot faster than college."

Along with their solid offensive and defensive performance, the Bengals also got a perfect 3-for-3 day from kicker Mike Nugent, who was given the game ball. The 10-year veteran played for the first time since the sudden death of his father, Daniel, last Monday.

As the Bengals prepare for a Monday night matchup with Denver, it's important they hold on to their identity as a truly physical football team. It simply is who they must be.