The regular-season finale featured an AFC North matchup of two playoff-bound teams. The 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals defeated the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens by a score of 23-17 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bengals kept their first-string defense in for the duration of the game and that proved to be the difference between these two teams today. Cincinnati relied on its defense and special teams heavily as the offense struggled.
After this win, Marvin Lewis has become the first Bengals head coach in the history of the franchise to have 10 or more wins three different times in his tenure with the club.
Final grades for players and positional groups are listed on the following slides.
Grades for players and positional units are based upon the criteria listed below:
An "A" grade is granted to a player that far surpasses the expectations set out for him during the game. This player will absolutely be a key factor to the success of his team.
A "B" grade will be given to a player that plays at an above-average level and that contributes throughout the game with very few mistakes.
A "C" grade is handed to a player that has an average game. He may not put up gaudy numbers or be a major contributor, but he will not be the main cause for certain team failures.
A "D" grade will be granted to a player that plays below his ability level. This player would have seen better days on the field and would most likely want a do-over for his performance.
An "F" grade will stick to a player that fails at all levels during a game. He may even be one key factor to a team's struggles, or even their loss.
Ravens - 17
Bengals - 23
Andy Dalton did not have a great game against Baltimore, but did produce the Bengals only offensive touchdown.
Andy Dalton - Overall Game Grade - C
Andy Dalton finished the game today completing 10 of 15 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. These seem like very efficient numbers, but most of them came on the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
Struggles for Dalton continued early on today while he had trouble getting into a rhythm with his receivers and looked hectic in the pocket.
Dalton will need to find his groove much quicker next week in the playoffs if this team is going to move forward.
Bruce Gradkowski - Overall Game Grade - D+
Bruce Gradkowski struggled for most of the second half against the second-string Baltimore defense. His passes seemed to lack any zip and he was inconsistent with his deep ball.
Granted, he is only a second-string quarterback, but against a defense of backups, he should have been able to produce more. His lone good pass was a 44-yard deep throw to Brandon Tate that set up a Bengals field goal.
The Bengals rushing attack struggled for the second straight week; this time without BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Cedric Peerman, Brian Leonard - Overall Game Grade - D
Cedric Peerman and Brian Leonard split the workload today after BenJarvus Green-Ellis tweaked a hamstring during warm-ups. The Bengals failed to hit the 100-yard rushing mark in their second consecutive game.
Both were equally unimpressive as they could not seem to get anything going on the ground against a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in rush defense.
Cincinnati must be hoping that Green-Ellis will be good to go in the first round of the playoffs because the offense was very one-dimensional today.
With Dalton struggling and the running game lacking a presence, the Bengals need to find a way to create balance over the next week if they are to gain a playoff victory.
Marvin Jones became the go-to target for both Dalton and Gradkowski against the Ravens.
Marvin Jones - Overall Game Grade - A
Marvin Jones really stepped up today as the No. 2 receiver for Cincinnati. He was targeted early and often and generally came down with the reception.
Jones ended the day with five receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown. Most of that came in the first half with Dalton at quarterback.
It is good to see Dalton trusting his rookie receiver going into the playoffs, which should translate into less pressure on standout wide receiver A.J. Green.
A.J. Green - Overall Game Grade - B
A.J. Green only played in the first half but was not targeted by Dalton often. He was targeted in the two-minute drill twice and came down with two receptions for 26 yards. Green was the reason the Bengals were able to get into the red zone and come away with a touchdown.
Though he was not not utilized much today, as always his presence was felt on the field.
Being that no other receivers were utilized much in the first half, these two players created their own success and helped the Bengals gain their 10th win this season.
Neither tight end was a major factor in the passing game or running game against the Ravens in Week 17.
Jermaine Gresham, Orson Charles - Overall Game Grade - F
Each tight end finished the day without a reception, and each also recorded a dropped pass. Neither was dominant in the running game as the Bengals struggled to block the Ravens defense for the duration of the contest.
It may have been the vanilla play-calling today as the Bengals did not want to show much before the playoffs, but these tight ends are very valuable in the passing game and need to find ways to make themselves more active as the game goes on.
Today, they simply did not get that done.
The offensive line played well in pass protection, but could not open up holes in the running game.
Offensive Line - Overall Game Grade - C+
The line took a slight step forward in pass protection against the Ravens as they only allowed two sacks between quarterbacks Dalton and Gradkowski. One of those sacks was due to a bad snap by rookie center Trevor Robinson, which Gradkowski could not handle and had to drop to the ground.
Run blocking was a different story. It seemed like a repeat of last week's contest against the Steelers. There were no running lanes opened up as Baltimore came with lots of pressure up the middle.
Cincinnati needs to figure out the blocking scheme that it is currently working with and make necessary adjustments to allow holes to open up for backs.
Going into the playoffs, this team cannot afford to be one-dimensional because of the offensive line.
The Bengals defensive line was once again a force today and showed why they lead the league in sacks.
Defensive Line - Overall Game Grade - A+
They are graded as a group because they play as a unit very nicely. Today Atkins was the focus of the Ravens offensive line, and the defensive ends were the beneficiaries.
Because of the attention Atkins received, Johnson had two sacks, Gilberry had one sack and Dunlap had a sack and an interception returned for a touchdown.
This defensive line has been extremely dominant for the duration of the season and it seems to remain fresh heading into the postseason. This line is truly a breath of fresh air for Bengals fans everywhere.
Vontaze Burfict was seemingly everywhere on the field in Week 17.
Vontaze Burfict - Overall Game Grade - A+
What a performance by Vontaze Burfict today. Burfict totaled 18 tackles against the Ravens and, even though he did not start the first three games of the season, won the tackling title for Cincinnati.
Burfict seemed to be everywhere on the field today as he was very disruptive in both the running game and the passing game. He has proven that he is an NFL starter and has made 31 other teams wonder why they did not take a chance on him in this past year's draft.
Rey Maualuga - Overall Game Grade - C+
Rey Maualuga totaled 10 tackles today, which was second on the team behind Burfict. He made some nice plays, but also was seen giving up on certain plays as well.
A noticeable down note for Maualuga was a scramble by Taylor in which he was in pursuit and completely gave up thinking Taylor would run out of bounds. With Maualuga slowing down, Taylor stayed in-bounds and racked up a good amount of yardage and a first down afterward.
Cincinnati cannot have sloppy play like this on the field during the playoffs. Taking a play off like that could easily result in turning the tide of the game in the opposition's favor.
Going forward, Maualuga could certainly take notes from the way that Burfict keeps motoring through the duration of the game, no matter the scenario.
The Bengals secondary held strong today while the front four got nice pressure on Baltimore quarterbacks.
Secondary - Overall Game Grade - B+
The Bengals secondary did not have gaudy numbers today as the Ravens focused on the run with Taylor at quarterback. However, when they needed to make a play in coverage, they were very solid.
The Bengals secondary allowed fewer than 200 total yards passing between both Baltimore quarterbacks and never let any big plays get past them.
The coverage was very solid which allowed the Bengals front four to account for multiple sacks on the day.
With the Cincinnati defense firing on all cylinders like this, they are a formidable opponent for any offense next week in the playoffs.
Josh Brown was on point once again today as he connected on all three of his field goal attempts.
Josh Brown - Overall Game Grade - A+
Josh Brown has become the clutch kicker the Bengals have been searching for late in the season. He has only missed one field-goal attempt (a 56-yard try at Heinz Field) since he became a Bengal.
Brown connected on all three of his attempts today from 32, 38 and 47 yards out.
After a game-winning 41-yard field goal last week, he came back with a strong performance and has gained the trust and the starting job for the Cincinnati Bengals postseason run.
Kevin Huber - Overall Game Grade - A+
Kevin Huber was another kicker that absolutely nailed it today. Huber had two punts that were downed inside the Ravens 5-yard line and averaged 47.1 yards on seven attempts with a long of 58.
If Huber can keep up this sudden consistency, he can single-handedly win the field position battle for the Bengals during their run in the playoffs this year.
Having a punter as solid has Huber at this point in the season is crucial when the weather is colder and field position becomes ever more crucial with each passing game.
Marvin Lewis had another roller coaster type of game against the Ravens in Week 17.
Marvin Lewis - Overall Game Grade - C+
Marvin Lewis started the game off very strong from a game management standpoint. Lewis had a great challenge of a sack-fumble on Dalton and the call was reversed due to the tuck rule. This gave Cincinnati the chance to punt instead of Baltimore starting deep inside Bengals territory.
As the game progressed, however, Lewis seemed to lose a little bit of control as he had to burn timeouts quickly in the second half.
Lewis burned the team's final timeout with plenty of time remaining after they could not get personnel on the field in time for a kickoff. These kinds of errors can easily cost a game in the playoffs and Cincinnati cannot afford them moving forward.
Mike Zimmer - Overall Game Grade - A+
Mike Zimmer had his defense fired up yet again this week as they did not allow the Ravens much breathing room on offense.
All of Cincinnati's play-makers on defense came up with big days and have continued to be relentless so late in the season.
It is a great sign so see the Bengals defense continuing to be red-hot heading into the playoffs, and Zimmer is the man to credit for the success.
Jay Gruden - Overall Game Grade - C*
Jay Gruden was graded with a "C" containing an asterisk for a reason. The Bengals played a very vanilla offense today and at this point it is uncertain if Gruden's offense was lacking originality or hiding plays for the postseason.
This will be up for a debate until the Bengals offense gets on the field next week. For now, it will remain a mystery whether Gruden was hiding his go-to plays or the offense was just very bad.