The Bengals' season turned on a dime when Andy Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter against Pittsburgh in Week 14. AJ McCarron performed solidly in his place, but Cincinnati's best chance at securing a first-round bye, ending its playoff drought and getting deep into the postseason ended when Dalton went down.
Best story of the season
Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert went from unrealized potential to proven commodity in a flash. After dislocating his elbow in the first half of the first game in 2014, Eifert returned to have a career season. He caught 13 touchdowns in 13 games and probably would have led the NFL in receiving scores if not for a pair of injuries down the stretch. Eifert emerged as a dangerous No. 2 threat behind A.J. Green and will see even more balls his way next season.
APRoss D. Franklin
Best play of the season
Mike Nugent's 42-yard doink off the left upright and in capped a stunning comeback win over Seattle in Week 5. Andy Dalton helped Cincinnati rally back from a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter, lifting the Bengals to a 5-0 start and demonstrating that this team was going to be a contender instead of a pretender this season.
Getty ImagesJohn Grieshop
Worst loss of the season
The Bengals ended their season with one of the worst losses in NFL history, as they basically handed the Steelers a victory in the final two minutes of their Wild Card showdown. The self destruction began with Jeremy Hill's fumble and ended with a pair of personal fouls on the same play by Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones. It was a defeat for the ages and for many Bengals fan, an indictment of Marvin Lewis' lack of institutional control.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
Geno Atkins returned to being a dominant force in the middle and was named first-team All-Pro for the second time in his career. Atkins was equally stout against the pass and run with 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Atkins wasn't himself last year when the Bengals notched a league-worst 20 sacks. This season, they were 10th in the NFL with 42. Atkins was not just a guy out there this season.
Getty ImagesJohn Grieshop
Best offseason acquisition
The Bengals had little turnover on their roster from 2014 compared to the rest of the league. The return of Michael Johnson helped strengthen a defensive front that was the team's most glaring weakness a year ago. Johnson may have only had five sacks himself, but he certainly played a part in the the gaudy sack totals reached by teammates Carlos Dunlap (13.5) and Geno Atkins (11.0).
Getty ImagesTom Szczerbowski
AJ McCarron turned out to be a pleasant surprise after taking over after Dalton broke his thumb in Week 14. McCarron came into the season having not thrown a pass his entire career, but proved to be a more than capable backup. In fact, some fans may have wondered if McCarron was a better long-term solution at quarterback than Dalton, who struggled in his four previous playoff starts. The way Dalton was playing this season, however, there is a good chance he could've earned his first playoff victory against Pittsburgh.
Second-year running back Jeremy Hill finished a disapppointing season with the worst possible ending. His late fumble against Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round will go down in infamy, but his season overall left much to be desired. Big things were expected of Hill after he ran for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. Instead, he rushed for just 794 yards on virtually the same amount of carries, a dropoff of 1.5 yards per rush.