Paul Daugherty , email@example.com
December 18, 2016
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) in the third quarter during the Week 15 NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. (Kareem Elgazzar)
A season of Bengals emptiness played itself out Sunday, in all its gory. Yeah, gory.
The Bengals didn’t need 13 games to produce their standard 2016 narrative -- We Didn’t Execute, We Didn’t Get it Done, We’ve Got to Regroup and We Need to Fix Some Things – they just needed one day. One half, really, less than two hours of crummy football on an afternoon colder than everything but their playoff chances, which are officially deader than a mackerel on a boat deck.
This L was no different than most of the seven that preceded it. Except that it was against the Steelers, a team that owns the Bengals lock, stock and psyche. The Bengals couldn’t score in the 2nd half, they subbed emotion for focus, they had none of the confidence of the Steelers, who just stuck with what they know.
Have five consecutive years of playoff appearances taught the Bengals nothing?
“I feel all the responsibility. I’ve not found the right buttons to push. It’s my job to figure (it) out,’’ said Marvin Lewis. All true, and all meaningless at this point. As much as I credit Lewis with moving mountain ranges and Mike Brown’s mindset, I wonder if his message has grown stale.
The Bengals not only have lost a lot this year. They’ve lost the same way. Close games, decided in the 2nd half. When a problem is easily identified and not fixed, either schematically or motivationally, something needs to change.
In this 20-24 loss, the Bengals had 216 yards in their first three drives of the day, and 60 yards in their other six. When they needed something, anything good to happen in the 2nd half, they went punt, interception, punt, punt. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh just kept playing. (And scoring. The Steelers got points on six straight possessions and ended the game on the Cincinnati 8-yard line.)
For most of the 1st half, the Steelers played with sublime indifference. They haven’t been a good road team, they were looking past this game to next week’s showdown with Baltimore. Whatever, the Bengals owned them. Jeremy Hill scored from the Pittsburgh 4, then tried to rip apart a Terrible Towel tossed from the stands. The Bengals led 17-3 barely 21 minutes into the game.
It looked like the start of an afternoon exorcism in front of 60,000 true believers, shaking their fists and their rosaries at the heathens from the north. The year was lost, but the game would not be.
But then something happened. I’d like to tell you what, exactly, beyond the obvious. But I don’t know. Neither do the players and coach apparently, or if they do, they’re not saying. Just more of the same.
“We work hard, we play hard,’’ Tyler Eifert said. “We gotta have more of that killer instinct. It’s matter of execution.’’
There ya go.
Andrew Whitworth did offer a deeper explanation:
“They do a great job of just doing their schemes, not changing a thing. That’s their MO. They do what they do. We didn’t find anything in the 4th quarter, somebody to make a huge play, a big throw or run or block.’’
When someone asked Steelers coach Mike Tomlin how his team won the 2nd half, 15-0, he offered words both blunt and telling.
“We stopped kicking our own butt,’’ Tomlin said.
“We’ve played that team five times in the last 12 months. (Actually, five times since October 2015.) It’s not a lot of secrets. It’s just technical expertise and a lot of butt kicking. There are no secrets when there is great familiarity.’’
Bengals players will never concede a lack of confidence when playing the Steelers. But watching the game Sunday, was there a better explanation? When the Bengals needed a defensive stop in the 4th quarter, they committed penalties on four consecutive plays. When they needed to sustain a drive late in the 3rd quarter, still ahead 20-15, Andy Dalton threw a perfect pass to Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
When one second-half TD would have won the game, Cincinnati got no closer to Pittsburgh’s end zone than the 41-yard line. Its own 41-yard line. “We didn’t do a thing at all,’’ Hill said. “That’s how you lose games. We didn’t do well adjusting to what they were doing. It seems like it’s every game.’’
It does, doesn’t it?
No matter how the final weeks play out, this season counts as a big missed opportunity. Why? Meet the new reasons. Same as the old reasons.
Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) returns an interception in the third quarter during the Week 15 NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. (Kareem Elgazzar)