What went wrong for the Cincinnati Bengals
By Kyle Schroeder
This past Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals looked like they had finally played well enough to win their first playoff game since 1991. Instead, after a monumental collapse late in the game, the Bengals' infamous playoff drought lives on. Here's a recap of what went wrong for the Bengals against the Steelers (no, it wasn't all just Jeremy Hill and Vontaze Burfict), the problems the Bengals had this season, and how those problems need to be addressed.
Trailing 15-0 going into the 4th quarter, it seemed like the Bengals were done for. A.J. McCarron and the Bengals offense, couldn't get anything going. They were forced to punt six times in the game and had turned the ball over three times. But on the Steelers' first possession of the 4th quarter, the momentum shifted to the Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked by Vontaze Burfict for a 12-yard loss and was injured on the play. The Bengals would score a touchdown on the ensuing possession, cutting the deficit to 15-7. All of the pressure shifted to backup quarterback Landry Jones, who couldn't answer the bell. The Steelers were forced to punt on their next two possessions and the Bengals capitalized, converting on a field goal after the first punt and then scoring a touchdown after the second punt. That 25-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to A.J Green, gave the Bengals a 16-15 lead with 1:50 remaining in the game.
With Roethlisberger on the sidelines, it was up to Landry Jones to lead the Steelers down the field to win the game. On the very first play of the drive, Jones threw an interception to Vontaze Burfict, seemingly winning it for the Bengals. Just when Bengals fans thought the playoff curse had finally ended, disaster struck.
On the first play of the drive, Jeremy Hill fumbled and the Steelers recovered. Roethlisberger came back into the game for the Steelers and led them down to Cincinnati's 47-yard line, converting a big 4th down on the drive. On the very next play, with 22 seconds left, Roethlisberger's pass fell incomplete but Vontaze Burfict recklessly drilled Antonio Brown in the head, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Then, Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter went out on to the field and seemingly instigated some Bengals players. CB Adam Jones lost his cool and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag. Pittsburgh went from being out of field goal range to being in perfect range for a chip shot from Chris Boswell, all thanks to the two ill-timed penalties by Jones and Burfict. After the free 30 yards, Boswell nailed the kick for a Steelers win.
Issues in the season and in the game
Bad quarterback play and the undisciplined nature of the Bengals were not only issues in this game -- they have been issues during all of the Bengals playoff games over the last four years. In three of their last five playoff games, the Bengals have turned the ball over three or more times. Those turnovers and untimely penalties have been the downfall of the Bengals in the playoffs.
A.J. McCarron picked up where Andy Dalton left off with poor quarterback play in the postseason. Although McCarron made plays late in the game to get the lead back, he was the main reason they were in a 15-0 hole going into the 4th quarter, throwing an interception and also getting strip sacked. It is fair to wonder if things would've been different if Andy Dalton was the quarterback on Saturday night based on his solid performance during the regular season, but his playoff history is awful, and he has been one of the reasons that the Bengals haven't won a playoff game in years. In the four playoff games Andy Dalton has started, his numbers are a composite 55.7% CMP%, 1:6 INT/ratio, and a 57.8 passer rating. Even if Dalton played in this game, it's not certain he would have done much better than McCarron.
Things should have been different for the Bengals this postseason. Looking back at their regular season, they only had one clear weakness and that was running the football. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry in the regular season, which was tied for 23rd in the league. They finished at the top of the league in many key statistical categories. Offensively, they were ranked 1st in offensive DVOA (the measure of team efficiency) according to pro football outsiders. They were ranked 2nd in passer rating at 104.1, and ranked 6th in points per game. Defensively, they were ranked 10th in defensive DVOA, 5th in opponents passer rating at 78.9, 2nd in points allowed per game at 17.4, and 3rd in turnover differential at +11.
Combine these great numbers with the roster they have, and the Bengals should have been one of the favorites, along with New England and Denver, to come out of the AFC. But time and time again, they get to the playoffs and drastically underperform.
Moving forward to next season
The Bengals have all of the pieces in place to return to the playoffs next season. The big question is: can they finally get over the hump and win in the playoffs? The answer is probably no as long as Marvin Lewis remains the head coach. Unfortunately, the Bengals owner Mike Brown is loyal to Lewis and will stick with him despite his glaring shortcomings in the playoffs.
This has to be maddening to Bengals fans. Marvin Lewis has been the head coach of the Bengals for 12 years, and is now 0-7 in playoff games. Lewis keeps the company of Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, and Mike Tomlin as the longest tenured head coaches in the league. The other four have all won Super Bowls and have won six or more playoff games, while Lewis hasn't even won a single playoff game. One could make the argument that in several of those playoff games, the Bengals weren't the better team, so it wasn't necessarily Lewis' fault. But this season, they were tied with Denver and New England for best record in the AFC, and this team was the most talented of the Marvin Lewis era. They were in prime position to win the game against Pittsburgh, but Jeremy Hill, Vontaze Burfict, and Adam Jones all made huge mistakes at the most important time in the game. This undisciplined play reflects on Marvin Lewis.
Firing Lewis and bringing someone in like Tom Coughlin would be a great move for the franchise. Coughlin is a hard-nosed, tough head coach who would demand that the players play with discipline. With all the talent the Bengals have on both sides of the ball, if they got a coach like Coughlin who could instill those principles, the Bengals could become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Unfortunately this won't happen because Mike Brown doesn't plan to fire Marvin Lewis and the same problems will continue to plague the Bengals.
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