The Bengals took their first step Sunday in answering the question of whether they could win against the NFL’s elite. Cincinnati did so by outlasting Green Bay 34-30 in a down-to-the-wire victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
Despite the outcome, there are those still hesitant to believe that the Bengals belong among the elite. Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk would suggest otherwise.
“The Bengals are a great team and we knew that coming in,” Hawk said after the game. “We have a lot of respect for how they play both offensively and defensively. We couldn’t find a way to win and they made the plays when it mattered. They took the momentum and ran with it. You have to give them a ton of credit for winning the battle.”
Cincinnati took an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter before the offense went dormant, turning it over three times in the second-quarter. The Bengals had four turnovers in the first half but overcame adversity in the second half. The defense helped out by declining the discount double-check in exchange for four sacks on Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers.
“That team has some amazing talent on defense and are well coached,” Hawk said. “No question they’re one of the best in the league.”
Hawk was one of the standouts on defense for the Packers. He made plays sideline-to-sideline and thumped backs running up the middle. The linebacker drew the assignment to shadow promising Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard when matched inside the tackle box. Hawk played well as the two went at it on nearly about every play, jaw-jacking with each other. Neither backed down and at the end of the day there was mutual respect for their ability on the field.
“He’s the real deal,” Hawk said. “Bernard is not only quick but powerful as well. I think he’s going to have a huge career in their scheme.”
Bernard totaled 99 yards rushing and receiving with a touchdown in the contest.
Over in the Bengals locker room …
“Hawk is a hard-nose linebacker and one of the best in game,” Bernard said. “He’s going to bring it on every play. I didn’t mind the talking back and forth. It’s all a part of the game and raised our level of competition. I have nothing but respect for him.”
Hawk finished the game with nine combined tackles.
The Kettering native is playing in his eighth year since being selected by Green Bay with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. He’s showing no signs of slowing down mentally or physically. His play continues to evolve and he better understands what’s expected of him on defense.
Hawk returned to Cincinnati to play in front of the home crowd. His favorite team growing up sent his current team packing and into the bye week with a loss. He shared his thought on what the Packers must do to get back on track.
“We’re 1-2 and that’s not where we want to be,” Hawk said. “We can either go up or down in the standings. It’s up to us to turn things around. We’ve been in situations like this before and have a lot of confidence in the guys in this room. We’ll bounce back for sure.
“Every time you play in a game like this it builds character on your team. These are the type of games you need to win if you want to be a championship team. We didn’t get it done against San Francisco or Cincinnati. We have to start playing Packers football and find away to win.”