The Bengals are done, playoff-wise, but the questions remain as to how they’ll finish the season…ones management must consider quite seriously. And will anybody be watching? Will anybody care?
CINCINNATI — For a while Sunday, the world appeared to be off its axis. For a half and for a change, it was the Steelers who were playing stupid football and the Bengals who were taking full advantage, building a 14-point lead—capitalizing on Pittsburgh’s penalties.
Ultimately, however, normalcy returned. Each team resumed its proper character and the Steelers emerged the winner, defeating the Bengals, 24-20, at Paul Brown Stadium.
The loss striped the Bengals of any hope for the playoffs, but there was—in the end—another gouge in the eye.
While Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were in the process of taking a knee three times in succession and running out the clock at PBS, Baltimore closed out the Eagles, 27-26, making the result here completely moot.
In effect, it made no difference how the Bengals played Sunday. The Ravens victory over Philly was the knockout punch. Nonetheless—and with due apologies to Dylan Thomas—the Bengals went down, once again, not with a bang, but a whimper.
- They led 17-3 and 20-6, but were outscored 18-0 down the stretch, 15-zip in the second half.
- In the second half, the Bengals had 38 total yards.
- While the Steelers scored 18 points in the second half, the Bengals ran just 19 plays, that’s 19 plays.
- The Steelers won on the strength of six field goals by Chris Boswell, field goals of 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards. “I just gave him a game ball,” Steeler coach Mike Tomlin said, afterward. “Six field goals, that’s big business—big business.”
- Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown, a 24-yard toss from Roethlisberger to Andre Rogers—came as a result of four straight penalties by the Bengals, two holding calls on Dre Kirkpatrick, an off sides and an unnecessary roughness call. The Bengals had more penalty yards in the second half than yards gained.
- Boswell’s final field goal was the result of an Andy Dalton interception, his first in 147 attempts.
- Twice the Bengals were in 1st and Goal situations and had to settle for field goals.
- The Bengals scored on every possession in the first half. They were shutout in the second half.
The question, of course, is an old and familiar one. What happened? How does a team go so flat so fast?
Typically, neither Dalton nor Bengals coach Marvin Lewis offered any insight. It was the usual folderol about not making enough plays, not finishing a game – same old, same old.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who has shown his value and importance in the absence of A.J. Green, cut to the nerve.
“We came out flat in the second half,” he said. “That’s a great football team. They play together all the time and no matter what…They just kept chipping away at us.
“We had the lead (at half) but they went in and made adjustments. That’s what you do. They came out and they just stopped us.”
Tomlin’s assessment was not much different than LaFell’s.
“We stopped kicking our own butts,” he said. “Their first three scores, change in field position or our failure to score were the result of our mistakes, penalties…I didn’t see that much difference (in the first and second half) other than we stopped kicking on our own butts.”
On the Bengals first possession, Stephon Tuitt sacked Dalton, but was called for a face mask. That led to Randy Bullock’s first field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The next time Cincinnati had the ball, a pass interference call kept a drive alive and led to a Dalton TD and a 10-3 lead.
The Steelers had to settle for a field goal after chop-block nullified a TD.
“In the first half, we had a lot of stupid penalties. But this group stayed singularly focused. They fought. They continued to fight. We are professionals. We’ve got to play clean. We didn’t do that in the first half…”
“Look, we’ve played these guys like five times in the past calendar year. It’s always the same. It’s technical expertise, butt kicking and keeping your focus.”
Tomlin seems to be onto something. The Steelers have beaten the Bengals in their last five meetings. They are 16-3 at Paul Brown Stadium.
In short, they have the Bengals number. We’ve said that here before and it’s worth saying again. They are the better team. There is no argument.
On Christmas, Pittsburgh will play Baltimore to determine how the division shakes out.
The Bengals, meanwhile, stand 5-8-1 and will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. They conclude the schedule with games at Houston on Christmas Eve and the season finale against Baltimore at PBS.
How will they play it out? Will they sort through their personnel? Will they play for pride? Can Marvin Lewis keep them in harness?
Of course, there are larger questions, the ones management must consider quite seriously. Will anybody be watching? Will anybody care?
Beyond that, do they have the right parts in the right places especially at the top? Now, it’s time for management to make a play.