- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

The Cincinnati Bengals no longer are a fluke. Sunday’s 17-14 victory in Baltimore gave the guys in tiger stripes undisputed possession of first place in the AFC North, a division that includes the Ravens and Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Oh, yes, the Steelers. The Bengals beat them two weeks earlier, part of their first 3-0 start in the division since 1989, when it was the AFC Central and included Houston, not Baltimore.

The Bengals have had more winless starts (five) than winning records (four) during their first five games dating to 1991. So this is rare territory for the franchise, which has won seven of its last eight games.

In beating the Ravens, the Bengals held the opponent’s top receiver (Derrick Mason) without a catch for the third time this year. Cedric Benson ran for 120 yards, becoming the first back in 40 games to hit triple digits against Baltimore. Coach Marvin Lewis evened his record at 50-50-1, a milestone for man with seven years in Cincinnati.

But Sunday’s victory will be remembered by the Bengals as the one for Vikki Zimmer; the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer died suddenly Thursday. Lewis gave the game ball to Zimmer, whose defense held the NFL’s No. 3 offense to 257 yards and one touchdown.

“Coach Zimmer would always… say, ‘Here’s some cookies. My wife says I’m being too hard on you guys,’ ” said cornerback Leon Hall, whose interception sealed the victory. “We dedicated this one to Coach Zimmer and his family.”

TEAM OF THE WEEK

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta coach Mike Smith certainly knows how to fire up a team after a loss. Not only is Smith 14-6 as coach of a team that won just five of its last 20 games before his arrival, he also has yet to lose two in a row.

Smith’s Falcons returned from their bye two weeks after losing to New England and pummeled the NFC West-leading 49ers 45-10 in San Francisco. The Falcons (3-1) led 35-10 at halftime and racked up 477 yards behind the new millennium’s Three Amigos - Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner - against Mike Singletary’s seventh-ranked defense, which had allowed the second-fewest points.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 5

UP: After winning the AFC South from 2003 to 2007, Indianapolis didn’t like losing the division to Tennessee a year ago. So payback was sweet in Sunday’s 31-9 laugher in Nashville that moved the Colts to 5-0, five games ahead of the Titans. Peyton Manning became the third QB to pass for 300 yards in a season’s first five games.

DOWN: San Francisco had won seven of its last nine under coach Mike Singletary, including all four games at home. With Arizona and Seattle struggling, the 49ers seemingly were destined to win the NFC West for the first time since 2002. But Sunday’s 45-10 home rout by Atlanta puts that in doubt. The good news? They have a bye to regroup.

UP: It seems like the Browns only can win in Buffalo these days. They were outgained 288-193. They completed just two passes and generated just nine first downs. But they won 6-3 for their first victory since Nov. 17, also in Buffalo. Unfortunately for Mangini and his Browns, they can’t play there again this year.

DOWN: Jacksonville headed west confident after outlasting Houston and thumping Tennessee. The Jaguars left Seattle with their worst loss since 1995. Maurice Jones-Drew gained just 34 yards on 12 carries and David Garrard was sacked five times for Jacksonville, which should get right against visiting St. Louis on Sunday.

UP: The situation seemed ripe for disaster for the Seahawks. They had lost three straight, and seven starters, including three on the offensive line, were out with the rising Jaguars coming into town. However, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck returned from broken ribs to throw four touchdown passes in a 41-0 romp, Seattle’s biggest in 25 years.

NEXT MAN UP

List of big injuries from Week 5:

MLBs Kawika Mitchell (right knee) and Marcus Buggs (left knee), Buffalo: Mitchell, who was playing the middle instead of his usual weak side because Paul Posluszny remains out with a broken arm, was carted off. Buggs took over when Mitchell was hurt but was carted off in the third quarter. Both will miss the rest of the season.

CB Nick Harper (arm), Tennessee: Harper broke his right forearm on the opening drive of the second half of the Titans’ 31-9 loss to Indianapolis, further depleting a secondary already without Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan and safety Vincent Fuller. He will miss up to six weeks.

SS Michael Lewis (concussion), San Francisco: Lewis sustained his third concussion since the preseason began and could be out for the season. He was leading with his helmet on an attempted tackle of Atlanta’s Michael Turner during the third quarter. Lewis was replaced by Mark Roman.

WR Calvin Johnson (right knee), Detroit: The Lions’ star limped off the field after injuring his knee during the first quarter against the Steelers. Johnson was replaced by veteran Dennis Northcutt.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 5 games:

3

Consecutive weeks in which the Bengals have won division games by three points or fewer, making them the first team to do so since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 5 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

TOM CABLE

Sure, the Raiders’ quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, is averaging 121 yards passing and has a 47.1 rating. And, sure, he was sacked six times and lost three fumbles during Sunday’s 44-7 spanking by the New York Giants.

But Oakland owner Al Davis has too much money foolishly invested in the first pick in the 2007 draft to toss him aside, so it’s his coach who’s under more serious pressure. Cable is 1-4 this year, 5-12 since replacing Lane Kiffin last October. Among the Raiders’ previous seven coaches, only Jon Gruden (16-16 after two years) survived into a third season. And Cable’s the only one who was accused of a punching an assistant.

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