The Cincinnati Bengals suffered a sucker-punch loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the kind of loss that can submarine a season. The Bengals, with their playoff destiny in their hands, saw their postseason chances dim just a bit when Dan Bailey’s 40-yard field goal at the gun split the uprights.
It’s a tough loss to take, but it isn’t the end of the world. The Pittsburgh Steelers also lost, and the Bengals can still make the playoffs. But they certainly let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers for the Bengals in Week 14.
Sunday’s game marked the fourth time that the Bengals have blown a fourth-quarter lead this season. And all four of those losses came at home. Sure, it was quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Ben Roethelisberger and Tony Romo that beat them, but there is no excuse for allowing a team off the mat.
It’s not fair to consider what the team’s record would be had it closed out those games. After all, the Bengals do have a few fourth-quarter comebacks on their resume. But the fact remains that good teams close out wins at home.
The Bengals defensive line lived up to its advanced billing as a dominant unit and harassed Tony Romo all afternoon. There was hardly a time when Romo was able to drop back without a lineman in his face.
Geno Atkins continued to make his case for the Defensive Player of the Year with his 11th sack and constant pressure. The country is starting to realize the talent the Bengals have in Atkins.
As dominate as the Bengals D-line was, it was nearly non-existent when it was needed most. Despite knowing that Dallas needed to pass, the line simply did not get the job done. Romo was able to side-step the pressure and make the plays to win the game.
Green-Ellis failed in his attempt to reach 100 yards rushing in four straight games, but the veteran continues to justify his free-agent signing with another strong game of 89 yards on just 12 carries.
Make no mistake about it, the NFL is now a passing league, and teams need an elite quarterback in order to win. But being able to balance the pass with the run is a formula every team will take.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was masterful with his play calls in the first half, mixing traditional runs with end-arounds and short passes. But as the game wore on, Gruden failed to match the adjustments made by Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and it cost the Bengals the win.
Ryan was determined to not let A.J. Green beat the Cowboys deep, and Gruden took advantage of that with a ball-control game. But when the Bengals needed to eat clock in the fourth quarter to ice the win, they were unable to do so, and Gruden called five straight passes. The result was predictable.
The new Bengal kicker had an impressive debut with three field goals, including a 52-yarder, and long booming kickoffs that pinned the Cowboys all day.
Kicker is one of those positions that fans don’t care about until it costs their team a win. With Brown in the fold, they may not happen.
A.J. Green dropped two passes, one of which was a sure touchdown. Andrew Hawkins dropped several passes. Marvin Jones was flagged on a TD reception after going out of bounds. The Bengals blew two timeouts in the second half due to substitution errors.
Considering those mistakes, it’s almost surprising that the Bengals were even in the game. But without the mistakes, the Bengals are 8-5, in front in the wild-card race and have the division lead in their sights.
Despite the loss, the Bengals still control their own destiny. They remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second wild-card spot, although catching the Colts for the first wild card seems remote.
In order to make it happen, the Bengals will need to beat the reeling Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday and then beat the Steelers in two weeks. Wins in those two games should secure the playoffs.
The game at Paul Brown Stadium was sold out, but it wasn’t Bengal fans that were sitting in the stands. As Dallas made its comeback, the crowd was decidedly on the Cowboys’ side. So much so that it felt like the game was in northern Texas.
The fans’ frustrations with Bengals owner Mike Brown are understandable. In 21 years in control of the franchise, very little has gone right. But if Bengals fans can’t show up for a playoff type game in December, then maybe the team has no business being in Cincinnati.