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The Cincinnati Bengals lost the first game after the bye week in each of the past five seasons.
That provided a little extra motivation for Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Bengals (6-4) did enough things right and wore down the slumping Raiders (5-5) in the second half for a 32-13 win that snapped a two-game skid and jump-started their confidence heading into a rigorous seven-game stretch run.
Also worth noting is that the sixth win equaled the combined total in coach Zac Taylor's first two seasons in Cincinnati.
"We just stayed the course,” said defensive end Sam Hubbard, who had a sack and recovered Derek Carr's fumble. “We’re making progress day by day, game by game.”
Knowing they would have to run the ball against the Raiders' strong pass defense, the Bengals gave the ball to Joe Mixon 30 times. He and the offensive line eventually wore down Las Vegas, with Mixon picking up 97 of his 123 yards in the second half. He ran for two touchdowns.
Quarterback Joe Burrow struggled more than usual, completing 20 of 29 pass attempts for 148 yards. His best throw of the day was a 6-yard beauty to rookie wideout Ja'Marr Chase in the back left corner of the end zone that opened up a 22-13 lead for Cincinnati with five minutes left in the game.
Chase, an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, leads all first-year players with eight TD catches.
Rookie Evan McPherson became the 13th player in NFL history to kick three field goals of at least 50 yards in a game, including a season-long 54-yarder to tie the score at 3 in the first quarter. His four field goals were the most in a game this season. He's made 11 of 14 attempts.
The defense limited the Raiders to 278 yards, the second time the Bengals held an opponent to fewer than 300 yards in a game. It was the third-lowest total for Las Vegas this season. Carr was sacked twice, and Cincinnati cornerback Eli Apple intercepted him in the fourth quarter. Two plays after Apple's pick, Mixon broke for a 20-yard TD that put the game out of reach. The Raiders were just 1 for 7 on third down.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Burrow wasn't sharp. His 148 passing yards were a career low. He forced throws, fumbled on Cincinnati's first possession of the game and was bashed around by the Raiders' pass rushers. He was sacked three times. The fourth-quarter scoring pass to Chase was his first TD toss in eight quarters. After a sack near the end of the first half, he limped off the field favoring his surgically repaired left knee, but apparently is OK.
“Every game is going to be played with a different style,” Taylor said. “We knew this was a game we were going to have to run the football. (Burrow) just wants to win, and he doesn’t care what it looks like.”
Mixon — and the offensive line — just kept grinding and finally broke the Raiders. After averaging just 2.4 yards on 11 carries in the first half, he pushed it up to 6.5 on 19 carries in the second. His 30 carries were a season high.
“We were definitely fortunate enough to wear guys down," Mixon said, "and big runs started to come.”
Besides Chase's slick TD catch, Bengals receivers were lacking in big plays. Tyler Boyd had six catches for 49 yards, Chase had three for 32, and Tee Higgins had two for 15. The longest gainer was a 17-yard reception by Chase.
1 — Number of Bengals' penalties against the Raiders.
The Bengals put themselves right back in the AFC North race. Five of their last seven games are at home, and they play all three AFC North rivals again, starting with the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
“I’m really proud of them to go out after a bye, get a big road win and come back and get ready for a big-time divisional game at our house,” Taylor said.
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