In a regular season that they began by earning the moniker of the "Cardiac Cats," the Cincinnati Bengals ended the year without a pulse.
The Bengals sleepwalked through a 37-0 thrashing at the hands of the New York Jets in the final game of the regular season, setting up a rematch with New York next Sunday in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
Playing without running back Cedric Benson on offense and safety Chris Crocker, defensive tackle Domata Peko and linebacker Rey Maualuga on defense, the Bengals that did show up looked disinterested and distracted from the outset.
The drop off to the second team reared its ugly head on the first drive of the game, when the Jets lined up in the Wildcat formation and Bengals rookie safety Tom Nelson over-pursued the play, allowing Jets quarterback Brad Smith to run 67 yards to set up a touchdown.
The quick punch did not refocus the Bengals, as they continued to subject themselves to mouthpiece-jarring blocks, blown assignments, and missed tackles.
The most egregious error came on a six yard touchdown throw by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to Jericho Cotchery with 37 seconds left in the first half, in which the Bengals simply did not recognize Cotchery out of their goal line defense and left him uncovered in the man-to-man scheme.
A Bengals rush defense that had been giving up 89 yards per game ended up surrendering a season-high 257 yards on the ground, as the Jets offensive line routinely got a two or three yard push off the line of scrimmage. The problem only became worse after Cincinnati defensive tackle Pat Sims ended his season with a broken right forearm.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati offense was faring no better, picking up only five first downs on the night, getting poor production from their usually reliable offensive line.
Two of Cincinnati’s first 10 plays went for negative yardage after tackle Dennis Roland whiffed on a pair of head-up blocks leading to instant penetration.
As the Bengals turn the page to another match-up with the Jets in the playoffs, they face the prospect of getting beaten up by the league’s best defense and a running game that averages 172.3 yards per game.
Cincinnati will likely continue to eight defenders in the box to force Sanchez to throw against Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph’s single coverage on the outside. Flooding the box against the Jets’ six or seven man lines will also mean that the Bengals’ safeties will be forced to make one-on-one tackles in the open field against New York’s running backs or Smith in the Wildcat.
It will be those open field tackles, head-up blocks, single-coverage defensive plays—the ones that have carried Cincinnati to a No. 4 seed in the AFC—that the Bengals will have to make to earn their first playoff win in 19 years.
They did not make them on Sunday, though. Instead they hit the snooze button.