Bengals vs. Steelers: 8 Things We Learned from Cincinnati's 35-7 Loss
Being oh-so-close yet with much to go, the Bengals finally were tripped up and tossed to the side for a decisive blow to the young psyche of this fresh-faced team.
It was a tale of two faces showing up, with the Bengals offense dying a slow death while the depleted defense was antagonized, battered and beaten to a pulp without the usual depth in the wings due to piling up injuries.
Yet there were positive signs from the Bengals in that Andy Dalton was not intercepted, Adam "Pacman" Jones further established himself and A.J. Green continued to show why his positives outweigh his negatives (even when over-anxiousness negates a touchdown on the first drive of the game).
Here is what we learned about the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13...
The A.J. Green Show started early on Sunday, with Green hauling in a 43-yard, cross-field, post-pattern pass to set up what seemed to be an early-scoring drive.
Yet only five plays later, Green would negate a touchdown with his impatience off the line of scrimmage.
Nevertheless, Green showed more poise and control than angst and anguish, as he hauled in 6-of-11 targeted passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Dalton Poised for Control
Despite being sacked three times, hit five more and having a number of passes defensed, Dalton continued to mature by not yielding a single turnover (interception nor fumble). He continued to hit A.J. "Favorite Target" Green, and spread the ball around.
Dalton would continue his growth process into a full-fledged professional football star.
Nothing Special Teams
Special teams fared none the better than what was expected—prior to the season starting.
Trying to muster a field goal from the first offensive drive of the game, Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber set up slower than molasses, causing an uncharacteristic delay of game penalty. The next attempt fared even worse, as the Steelers blocked their first field goal in two seasons.
Further, Brandon Tate botched a punt return, fumbling the ball back to the Steelers with prime field position.
Then, when the Bengals looked to be re-entering the game with a late first-half touchdown, the Steelers' Antonio Brown would take a 52-yard Huber punt back for a touchdown to close out the half, putting an early nail in the Bengals' coffin.
Missing in action were key players on the defense.
Starters defensive end Carlos Dunlap, defensive tackle Pat Sims and cornerback Nate Clements left the Bengals without depth, and as the stamina wore off, the Bengals' defensive unit showed they had no chance against the high-octane offense of the Steelers.
It is all but certain that even with the aforementioned individuals being healthy, the Bengals will be looking at building up the secondary either through free agency or by the draft.
With Leon Hall already out for the season, losing Clements for the day was too much too soon for the Bengals.
Adam "Pacman" Jones is a player to keep for the defense.
Part defensive version of Cedric Benson and former college teammate of the not-soon-to-be-forgotten reformed bad boy Chris Henry, Jones showed more and more that the cobwebs were coming off of his wings and flight was in the making.
Two tackles (one for a loss) and one pass defensed may seem like meager numbers, but Pacman chopped his way through the game, covering the competition.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
As Jim Nance put it early in the CBS Sports broadcast, the Bengals were committing "costly penalties."
So much so were the Bengals on the wrong side of the penalty flags, that one might have been mistaken the referees for loyal Steelers fans with their terrible towels waving in the wind.
Going back yet again to the Bengals' first drive of the game, two scoring opportunities were negated on that drive alone and in the midst of the last three plays of the drive itself.
Ten penalties for 109 yards was a colossal disaster, as safety Chris Crocker tacked on 45 yards on an early second-quarter pass-interference call.
Enough Is Enough
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Bengals' coaching staff realized it was too late and too dangerous to keep Andy Dalton in the game. Bruce Gradkowski came on and would fair no better than an interception and a couple of short completions to end the Bengals' day.
The unwritten gentleman's mercy rule was applied as both teams took out their starting quarterbacks early in the fourth quarter.
Conclusion: Building Towards the Future
While the Bengals are not out of the race and are a very promising wild-card team in this year's playoffs, it is easy to see that we have not seen anything yet.
As the Dalton Green tandem continues to perfect their proverbial one-two punch, the Bengals hold all of the promise with the responsibility to add more.
The defense simply did not have the resources to cope, and the team hopes to be back in the healthy range by next week.
Youth aside, no Bengals fan should be ashamed of this team as they build toward a strong and resolute future.