CINCINNATI -- The Bengals did what they had to do.
When you’re 8-2 playing a 4-6 team at home, you’ve got to win and win convincingly — especially after a pair of losses. The Bengals did that, beating the St. Louis Rams 31-7 at Paul Brown Stadium.
“After losing two in a row, you want to come out and get a win,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “I thought we played well in all phases of the game. It was good to get a win. It was good to get a win the way we did.”
It wasn’t a perfect effort by any means. The Rams hung around into the second half. But two touchdowns in a 2-minute, 19-second span put the game away.
It also put away the notion that the Bengal season was about to go sideways. The loss at Arizona on the final play of the game was nothing to be ashamed of, but losing to St. Louis would have had everyone in Bengal-land worried.
“They’re not always going to be like this,” Dalton said. “But it was nice to control the game.”
Marvin Lewis, never overly effusive in his praise, was sort of happy.
“Overall, I’m pleased,” he said. “It was kind of uneventful, but that’s what we needed.”
Dalton was sharp: 20-for-27, 233 yards, three touchdown passes, one interception.
A.J. Green caught a couple of touchdown passes. Gio Bernard made a 45-yard run on the key drive in the third quarter.
But the defense won this one with some help from St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles. The seven points allowed were a season low.
“After two letdowns in a row, we wanted to bounce back defensively,” Domata Peko said. “We did. We kind of strangled them as far as running the ball. Then we got after them with the sacks and turnovers.”
Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall and George Iloka each had an interception. Hall returned his for a touchdown, basically clinching the game. Iloka tipped the ball on Nelson’s interception.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpartrick said the defensive line made the job of the defensive backs easier.
“Praise goes to the D-line,” he said. “They peeled their ears back and got after it.”
“We got back to what we do,” defensive tackle Carlos Dunlap said. “We played Bengals football. It’s huge to be 9-2. More importantly, we’re undefeated in our division ... A lot of people would love to be where we’re at. We’ve got five games left. We’ve got to play the way we did today.”
Here’s some takeaways from win No. 9:
FAST START: It looked like the Bengals were on the way to a blowout early. They forced a three-and-out to start the game, and running back Jeremy Hill went right up the middle for 15 yards. The Bengals went on a seven-play, 63-yard scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard Dalton pass to a wide-open Green.
“It felt good,” Green said. “It felt real good.”
But mistakes and breakdowns kept the Bengals from scoring another touchdown until 3:27 was left in the half.
WALKING THE WALK: Through the fits and starts, you got the impression that the Bengals were in trouble.
“We played with a swagger that was very noticeable,” cornerback Adam Jones said.
“After those two losses, back-to-back, we didn’t want that feeling anymore,” Kirkpatrick said. “When we come out with high energy, the whole team feeds off it.”
GOOD HANDS: Tyler Eifert’s recovery of Bernard’s fumble at the end of a 45-yard run was probably the biggest play in the third quarter. If the Bengals lose that fumble, you start to wonder if they’re ever going to put St. Louis away.
Dalton hit Green for 18 yards and a score on the next play. That got the lead to 24-7. Suddenly the Bengals had things under reasonable control.
Three plays later, Hall’s interception and runback put things completely under control.
COSTLY MISTAKE: The Bengals were in a position to take complete control of the game before half. Dunlap sacked Foles on third down at the Ram 19. But a defensive holding penalty on Kirkpatrick extended the drive.
Nelson bailed Kirkpatrick out with an interception at the Bengal 5. It was Nelson’s career-high sixth interception. And it was likely the difference between going into halftime up 17-14 or 17-10 rather than 17-7.
GETTING CUTE: The Bengals threw to Jake Fisher on third-and-goal at the 3. With Green and Eifert on your roster, do you really need to go with the tackle-eligible play?
MEANO GENO: Geno Atkins was one disruptive dude in the first half. He had two tackles for loss in the first three St. Louis’ series. He was in the backfield before the runner ever got going on both.
Atkins sacked Foles in the third quarter to stifle a Ram drive. It was Atkins’ eighth sack of year.
LEAPING LEON: Hall’s interception and 19-yard return for a touchdown pretty much iced the game. It was also historic.
It was the 26th of Hall’s career. It moved him past Lemar Parrish and into fourth place alone on the team’s list.
BELLY DANCER: Peko celebrated a big play with a dance that includes rubbing his belly while he gyrates.
“Growing up on the mean streets of Whittier, Calif., I was a big break dancer,” Peko said. “I’m a big dude, but I like to pop a move. I’ve got some pretty good dance moves.”