Is there a fanbase that dreads prime-time games more than those of the Cincinnati Bengals? It’s almost as if when the big lights come calling, the Bengals don’t answer the call.
OK, that’s not entirely fair. Cincinnati played well enough at times to win but still ended up falling to archrival Pittsburgh 24-17 on Sunday Night Football. Not nearly as bad as the Monday Night debacle against Baltimore to open the season, but it still leaves the Bengals with a three-game losing streak.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers for the Bengals in Week 7:
Winner: Vontaze Burfict
The first-year linebacker from Arizona State had 13 tackles and two assists and played an all-around terrific game. It was an impressive performance for the rookie, who is already become the best member of the team’s draft class, and he was even drafted. Under the prime-time lights, he shined the brightest.
Loser: Pass Defense
Ben Roethlisberger faced very little pressure all night and had virtually as much time as he wanted to complete 27-of-37 passes for 278 yards.
Much of the blame for Roethlisberger’s big game goes to a secondary that continues to fail, but for the first time all season the defensive line failed to provide a push. Against a Steeler offensive line that was hurting, the D-line’s performance was disappointing at best.
Loser: Run Defense
See above. The Bengals have prided themselves on being a run-stopping unit, but Pittsburgh’s third-, fourth- and fifth-string running backs shredded them for 167 yards.
It’s interesting to note that Pittsburgh loses its top two running backs to injury and doesn’t miss a beat while Cincinnati loses its second- and third-best backs and struggles. And Bengal fans wonder why the Steelers always win.
Winner: Ryan Whalen
The second-year player had four catches for 31 yards in his first extended action of the season and became the latest player to audition for the Bengals’ second wide receiver position.
Whalen was Andrew Luck’s favorite target at Stanford, and there are many that feel his skills could translate to the NFL. Maybe Sunday’s game will be the start of a big season.
Loser: The Passing Game
Whalen had a nice game, but his 31 yards led all receivers and that is just unacceptable.
Andy Dalton barely broke 100 yards passing and A.J. Green had just one catch for eight—eight!—yards. Six different players caught passes, but the longest catch was for 17 yards.
As the season has progressed, teams have become less and less willing to allow Green to beat them. The result is three straight losses.
Loser: The Running Game
The Bengals ran the ball right down Pittsburgh’s throat on its first scoring drive but still had only 80 yards total on the night.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ended up with 69 yards and a respectable 3.8 average but wide receiver Mohamed Sanu had more yards than running back Cedric Peerman.
The lack of a consistent running game has hurt the team all season and with two backs out with injuries it’s only going to get worse. Expect the Bengals to bring in a back or two over the bye week.
Loser: Marvin Lewis
The Bengals’ head coach is now 4-10 in prime-time games including 0-2 to division opponents this season. He has also beat Pittsburgh only once at home in his tenure.
Not everything is Lewis’ fault. In fact, I loved the call on fourth down early in the game that led to the Bengals’ first score. But it is an undeniable fact that the Bengals just don’t seem to react to big-time games like other teams do.