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Bengals take aim at banged-up Eagles

10:32 AM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The Cincinnati Bengals let one golden opportunity slip through their fingers.

They absolutely can't let another when they visit an injury-plagued Philadelphia team on Thursday night.

The Bengals were closing in on a fifth straight win last Sunday until faltering and allowing 10 points in the closing minutes of a devastating 20-19 home loss to Dallas.

The Cowboys, who lost one of their own on Saturday, persevered at Paul Brown Stadium, rallying to steal the decision when Dan Bailey connected on a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

Jerry Brown, a linebacker on the Cowboys' practice squad, was killed in a one- car accident the day before with teammate Josh Brent identified as the driver and subsequently arrested on intoxication manslaughter charges. That, however, didn't dissuade Dallas from competing until the final gun.

The Bengals actually outgained the Cowboys, 336-288, but only scored one touchdown on Andy Dalton's short toss to Andrew Hawkins. Dalton threw for 206 yards with a touchdown and an interception but was sacked five times.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran 12 times for 89 yards, falling 11 yards shy of matching the Bengals' all-time record with four straight 100-yard running games. Star receiver A.J. Green was limited to three receptions for 44 yards.

"We had opportunities. We got down into the red zone several times and we had to kick field goals. If we make one more play, score one more touchdown it's a completely different game," Dalton said.

Cincinnati is now deadlocked with AFC North-rival Pittsburgh for the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference. The Steelers, however, own the tiebreaker thanks to a Week 7 win over the Bengals in the Queen City. The two teams play again in Western Pennsylvania on Dec. 23.

"We let a huge opportunity get away," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We had a lead, and we didn't protect the lead very well on offense nor defense. That's what's disappointing."

Any postseason hopes are long gone in Philadelphia for an Eagles team decimated by injuries and now looking toward the future.

Concussions to quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy in recent weeks along with a rib injury to top receiver DeSean Jackson only magnified problems with the team's offensive line, which is down three starters, tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans and center Jason Kelce.

Embattled Eagles coach Andy Reid likely has just three more games left in his 14-year tenure in South Philly but could be leaving a nice legacy with rookie quarterback Nick Foles.

Foles, a third round pick in the 2012 draft out of Arizona, found Jeremy Maclin for a 1-yard touchdown as time expired last Sunday to rally the Eagles past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-21, in Central Florida.

After three straight incomplete passes with the seconds winding down, Foles connected with Jason Avant for a 22-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. Foles then sprinted to the line and spiked the ball with two seconds left.

Following a Buccaneers timeout, the rookie signal-caller took the shotgun snap and delivered a perfect pass to Maclin, who slid across the end zone on his knees.

"He came off (the field) and he wanted that play. That's the one he liked the best. He was feeling it," said Reid. "Hey, listen, that's a great thing when your quarterback is in tune like that. When he came off he was saying, 'I'm feeling this one right here.' I'm proud of the kid."

The win enabled Philadelphia to snap an eight-game losing streak -- the franchise's longest since Reid took over as head coach in 1999.

Foles, meanwhile, finished the game 32-for-51 passing for a career-high 381 yards. The completions and yardage marks were both franchise rookie records.

"It's a great feeling for the team," Foles said. "I think the big thing is, it's a great thing for the team sticking together. We can build off of this."

The Bengals lead their all-time series with the Eagles 7-3-1 but the two teams haven't met since Nov. 16, 2008, a 13-13 tie in Cincy. The clubs haven't tangled in the City of Brotherly Love since 2005 when the Bengals routed the Eagles 38-10.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Bengals, who lead the NFL with 42 sacks, have been playing very well defensively and have held their last fours opponents to fewer than 300 total yards.

"They've been together a while, in particular the coaching staff, and they've got all of the wrinkles figured out there," Reid said of the Cincinnati defense. "The players are good against both the run and the pass, and they do a lot of things in the secondary. They do a lot of things with fire zones and blitzes that you have to be ready for."

With 10 1/2 sacks, star defensive tackle Geno Atkins has already accumulated the most sacks by a Cincinnati player since Eddie Edwards had 13 in 1982. His consistent interior pressure figures to make things difficult for Foles, who is still feeling his way for a team with an ugly minus-19 turnover ratio.

"They're a good defense," Foles said. "There are a lot of good defenses in the NFL and once again we're going to have to go out there and see what they're doing to us. I'm going to have to do a great job with blitz pickup and we need to execute our offense. We need to run effectively and throw effectively. The big thing is (just to) run our offense well and execute well."

Vick has finally passed his ImPACT concussion testing but Reid has already stated that Foles will start the final three games. The 6-foot-6 signal-caller has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,174 yards, with four TDs and three picks in five games and actually has a higher passer rating than Vick (80.3 compared to 79.2).

"This will be another challenge for (Foles), him doing it on a short week," Reid said. "I know he was here late last night going over stuff and I'm sure it'll be the same (throughout the week). It's one more step. Let's see how he does with it."

Veteran tight end Brent Celek (concussion) has already been ruled out for Thursday as has Vick and McCoy, although both have passed their concussion testing. Foles' fellow rookie Bryce Brown was a revelation early in McCoy's place but came down to earth in Tampa last week, rushing for just six yards.

Cincinnati must find a way to get Green back in the groove. The dynamic receiver has 79 receptions for 1,151 yards and 10 TDs on the season but has been held out of the end zone for three straight games after scoring in the previous nine straight.

The Eagles have big names on the corners in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but both have performed poorly this season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If Cincinnati, which finishes its season with games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, has any plans of making the playoffs this one is imperative.

The Eagles are playing a ton of youngsters in a short week and their makeshift offensive line should be no match for Atkins and Co. Green, meanwhile, figures has to bounce back against one of the NFL's most troubled secondaries.

"We have the opportunity to still control our own end, from now until the end," Lewis said. "We still have an opportunity to win the division. We still have an opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in a couple of ways. That's all we can ask for."

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 24, Eagles 17

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