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NFL Preview - Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A Cincinnati season that began with a thud is now looking up after consecutive wins over Cleveland and Washington.
Andy Dalton and Co. will aim to make it three straight when they travel to Jacksonville for a Sunday showdown with the Jaguars.
Dalton passed for 328 yards and three touchdowns last weekend, A.J. Green hauled in nine balls for a career-high 183 yards and a score, as the Bengals barely held off the Washington Redskins, 38-31, at FedEx Field.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed 17 times for 38 yards with a score and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu threw a 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage for the Bengals (2-1), who have rebounded after a season- opening loss to Baltimore.
"We're a work in progress, by no means a finished product," Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game. "But this team can be on the verge of something special if we keep believing in everything we're doing."
The Jags are indeed coming off a win, and a very exciting one at that when Cecil Shorts hauled in the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert with 45 seconds remaining as Jacksonville stunned the Indianapolis Colts, 22-17, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"That was a typical NFL finish, up and down, up and down emotionally," Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. "The staff is extremely proud of our football team. We've got to be a little more consistent though."
Maurice-Jones Drew ran for 177 yards on 28 carries and his 63rd career rushing touchdown, which pushed him past Fred Taylor for the franchise record. It was his fifth career game with 150-or-more yards.
Gabbert finished with 155 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-21 passing for the Jags (1-2), who avoided the first 0-3 start since 2003.
The Jaguars their series with the Bengals 11-7 overall, a margin that has been built with a 7-2 mark as the home team. The Bengals, however, won their last visit to EverBank Field, prevailing 30-20 last season. That win broke a seven- game losing streak in Jacksonville.
"We've got anther big game on the road -- an AFC game -- against a team that won last week and has always played us tough," Leis said. "It's no time to be too happy with ourselves."
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Dalton and Green are growing up together and quickly becoming one of the NFL's most dangerous combinations. Any thoughts of a sophomore slump by Dalton have been tempered by two career-best passer ratings in three weeks. Dalton currently ranks second in the NFL in average yards per attempt (9.13), tied for fifth in TD passes (six), fifth in completion percentage (68.4) and eighth in yards (867).
Green, meanwhile, is probably the AFC's top big play threat, leading the conference in receiving yards (311). He's currently on pace for over 1,200 receiving yards this season after leading all NFL rookies with 1,057 a year ago.
Things are unsettled opposite Green but rookie Sanu contributed as a "Wildcat" passer at Washington, taking a direct snap before throwing the 73-yard TD on Green on the game's first play from scrimmage.
"People have been asking me, 'Who is your No. 2 wideout?" Lewis said, "and my answer is that I think I have about four of them (Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Sanu and Brandon Tate). We have guys who have produced when given the chance, and some others who haven't had a great chance yet, but I'm confident they'll make the most of it when they do."
Green-Ellis handles the load in the backfield and while not explosive, he is dependable. Green-Ellis actually fumbled last week at Washington after 589 combined rushes and receptions without a miscue, the longest such streak to start a career in NFL history.
Green-Ellis' has been running behind a patched-up interior line which has held up surprisingly well. Major injuries to veterans Travelle Wharton (LG) and Kyle Cook (C) have helped lead to starting roles for a second-year player in Clint Boling and veteran center Jeff Faine.
Veteran LB Daryl Smith (groin), perhaps the Jags' best defensive player, has yet to play in the regular season and CB Derek Cox (hamstring) returned to action last Sunday against the Colts after missing the first two games.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
The Jags are the lowest-scoring team in the AFC with 52 points and will go as far as MJD takes them these days although Gabbert has shown signs of being a playmaker early this season, throwing late game TDs to Shorts against both Minnesota and Indy.
Gabbert still seems to hurry too much at times but things are progressing nicely. Rookie Justin Blackmon, former Cowboy Laurent Robinson and Shorts give Gabbert three solid options on the outside while Marcedes Lewis has always been more potential than substance but is a difficult matchup.
Gabbert has taken care of the ball and is one of only two quarterbacks (Minnesota's Christian Ponder) to not throw an interception in the first three weeks but his accuracy has been less than stellar.
"The season is so long, there's 16 regular-season games," said Gabbert. "We're going into our fourth game (and) there's a lot of time for things to get better. ... We've just got to keep working and things will kind of play out."
Despite his well-publicized holdout in the preseason Jones-Drew could very well be the game's best all-around back since the Titans' Chris Johnson is evidently the Witness Protection Program and the Vikings' Adrian Peterson is still coming back from serious knee surgery. Jones-Drew is second in the league with 314 rushing yards, nine behind Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, and will face a Bengals defense that ranks 31st while allowing 155.0 rushing yards per game.
Injuries have played a role for the Jaguars through the first three weeks especially along the offensive line. The club lost starting left guard Eben Britton and right tackle Cameron Bradfield to injuries in the first half of the season-opener and both were inactive the last two weeks.
Bengals DE Michael Johnson is really coming on, recording three sacks of Robert Griffin III last week and was credited by coaches with five additional QB pressures. Meanwhile, MLB Rey Maualuga, who missed the final three preseason games, due to a knee strain, has come out the gates with 32 tackles and free safety Reggie Nelson, a former Jags first-round pick, has been very active in the Cincy defensive backfield.
The Jags still don't feel comfortable enough to take the reins off Gabbert so they want to play a ball control game and hope MJD can grind it out. The Bengals, thanks in large part to Green, may be a little too explosive for that type of game plan
"This is a very good-looking football team," Lewis said of his charges. "It's big and it's fast. That's kind of a metamorphosis from where we started. It's something the organization ought to be very proud of. We are what an NFL team looks like in size and girth and speed and length, the things you want to have in order to be successful."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 21, Jaguars 17
09/27 13:49:48 ET