The Falcons and Bengals face off on Sunday with the same goal in mind

Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons have been surprises since the start of the National Football League season…for different reasons.

The Bengals, the defending AFC champions, lost their first two games and had to come from behind once again to beat the New Orleans Saints last week to improve to 3 -3.

The Falcons, despite having low expectations of them during training camp, also improved to 3-3 last weekend with a win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Thus, the Falcons share first place in the South Division of the National Conference with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Barring a tie, one of these two teams will have a record over .500 when they meet this Sunday in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have almost always had to play catch-up football so far this season. Such was the case last week when they scored 10 points with less than four minutes remaining to upset the Saints 30-26.

That victory, combined with the Baltimore Ravens’ 24-20 loss to the New York Giants, allowed the Bengals to catch up with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North Division.

« We can’t afford to do what we’ve done so far, which is go down 10 points and try to come back up the hill, » the Bengals head coach said Wednesday. Zac Taylor.

“It’s not the best way to play football. We have to be more efficient early in the games.”

For his part, Marcus Mariota completed two touchdowns — while throwing only 14 passes in the entire game — and added a rushing major to guide the Falcons to a 28-14 triumph over the 49ers, who were the best defense in the NFL.

The second player selected in the 2015 draft, Mariota had hardly played for two and a half years before being offered the opportunity to replace Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Against the 49ers, he completed his first 13 assists.

In addition, both teams are gaining confidence.

“I think week by week it got better. When you don’t play for two years you have to get back into rhythm and I appreciate that (head coach Arthur Smith) and those guys are helping me through it,” Mariota said.

“But now I feel great in this attack, he continued. We do a lot of different things depending on our opponent of the week; maybe we’ll throw the ball, or run. We have a lot of versatility that allows us to create advantages for ourselves.

With running back Cordarrelle Patterson’s name on the disabled list, the Falcons have turned to a committee approach to their rushing offense, and it’s working.

Against the 49ers, Caleb Hunley and rookie half Tyler Allgeier combined for 110 yards, while Mariota added 50 on six carries. In that game, the Falcons attempted 40 ground plays, a season high.

Such successes could spell trouble for the Bengals, who have trouble stopping the run. Last Sunday, the Saints racked up 228 rushing yards against a group that was without center tackle DJ Reader.

Quarterback Joe Burrow believes the Bengals are starting a crucial streak with games against the Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers before enjoying a break in the schedule.

« It seems like every game is a one-night stand in the NFL, but I think this three-game series is going to determine the shape of our season. When you’re sitting on your couch (over the break) and thinking about your season, a 6-3 record looks better,” Burrow said.


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