The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. But at what point did you know the season was over?
One of the most begging questions of the 2016 Bengals is where exactly did everything go wrong? When did you know this team wasn’t going to break the NFL’s longest playoff drought?
Going through the 16-game slate, I found a few moments where I first began to speculate that this club wasn’t going to be playing meaningful football in January.
Week 3: Broncos 29, Bengals 17
The defending Super Bowl-Champion Denver Broncos came to town for the Bengals’ home-opener and the local club got off to a good start, scoring on the first drive to go up 7-0.
Leading 7-3 late in the first quarter, Denver went three and out deep in their own territory. On the ensuing punt, All-Pro returner Adam Jones fumbled at midfield and the Broncos recovered. Instead of a short field and a chance to go up double digits, Denver maintained possession.Sixty-three seconds later, Trevor Siemian found Emmanuel Sanders on a go-ahead 41-yard touchdown.
Mike Nugent‘s 34-yard field goal gave the Bengals back the lead on the second play of the fourth quarter. But Siemian tossed two more touchdowns in the final seven minutes and Denver left Ohio 12-point winners.
All things considered, the loss wasn’t too alarming. After all, Denver had just won a Lombardi Trophy seven months earlier. However, the defense allowed essentially a rookie quarterback to throw four touchdowns in his first road start. And the inability on offense to score in the second half was a tell-tale sign of things to come.
Take away A.J. Green‘s Hail Mary touchdown for a second. It was the biggest highlight of the game but it shouldn’t have been. The 0-6 Browns scored on back to back possessions early on to take a 10-7 lead.
Following Green’s circus scoring grab, the Browns marched 75 yards on their opening second-half possession to make it 21-17. The Bengals’ defense stiffened, blanking Cleveland the rest of the way. A historic offensive day by Green and Jeremy Hill overshadowed what was a shaky win against a mediocre team.
Cincinnati allowed rookie quarterback Kevin Hogan, in his NFL debut, to hit triple digits on the ground. Including a 28-yard touchdown where the Bengals’ missed countless tackles.
In the loss, Cleveland pounded out 6.9 yards per carry. Not quite the defense you’d expect from a defending division champion.
Also, the win overshadowed the first glimpse of kicking issues for Nugent. He missed two field goals from the 40-49-yard range.
Week 8: Redskins 27, Bengals 27
The Bengals went 2-2 in the first quarter of the season. They were hoping for the same result in the second quarter when they visited Wembley Stadium sporting a 3-4 record.
Facing the Redskins, the Bengals made Kirk Cousins look like anything but a quarterback that may not get retained in the Nation’s Capital this offseason.
After an opening-drive touchdown, Washington only managed a field goal for the rest of the first half. Taking a 10-7 lead into the locker room. The Bengals opened up the third quarter with back to back touchdown drives to take a 10-point lead, but the defense didn’t have an answer for Cousins the rest of the way.
Cousins led touchdown drives of 91 and 83 yards, respectively, to give Washington the lead early in the fourth. As much control the Bengals had in spurts in this game, they were lucky to leave London kissing their sister. Dustin Hopkins shanked a chip shot in overtime that would’ve won it. Then, on Washington’s final drive, a controversial pass interference on Pierre Garcon negated a 14-yard reception that would’ve put the Redskins in range for another potential game-winning field goal attempt.
Cousins’ Hail Mary as time expired fluttered out-of-bounds. Both team’s record was split into three categories. But at the end of it all, the defense allowed 546 yards of offense, forced just one turnover on 88 plays (a George Illoka interception that was basically a punt), and gave up eight third-down conversions.
Mike Nugent also missed an extra point that could’ve played a difference in the game’s 27-27 final.
Weeks 10-12: Three one-possession losses
Okay, so by week 12 the Bengals’ playoff chances were basically kaput. But not mathematically. Die-hards held out the tiniest shred of hope. Although we knew it would ultimately be all-for-not.
Starting in the team’s second trip to MetLife Stadium, the Bengals’ three-game losing streak sealed just their fourth losing campaign in 14 seasons. They fell to the Giants, 21-20, but that was a playoff-caliber opponent. Still hope….
The next week, though, the Bengals lost Green and Giovani Bernard to season-ending injuries in a 16-12 loss to Buffalo that featured a slice of everything that went wrong with the team all year.
The defense allowed another opening-drive touchdown, Andy Dalton threw multiple interceptions for the first time all season, Nugent missed two extra points, and the Bengals’ first five second-half drives produced just 37 yards on 17 plays.
The nail in the coffin was the next week in Baltimore. Another opening-drive touchdown, Nugent missed another PAT, and a red zone strip-sack of Dalton with 1:12 left put a lid on a three-game losing streak that ended any hope of a sixth straight postseason trip.