Giving up five turnovers is a pretty solid way to lose a game. Missing field goals, kicking the ball out of bounds and punting miserably are other great ways to fail. Yet what stood out to me the most was the Bengals' inability to convert third or fourth down on short yardage scenarios. When the going got tough, the tough got hammered.
Snap-for-snap, the Bengals largely outplayed Baltimore. The defense applied excellent pressure on Joe Flacco once again -- typified by the continuously improved play of the sack machine, Carlos Dunlap -- and Ray Rice had a fairly modest day running. The beat-up secondary covered well throughout and even the safety play was above-average.
On offense, the young receiving corps continues to shine, highlighted by the sudden star-in-the-making Jerome Simpson. While perhaps still a little too pink on the inside, one can immediately detect the natural skills this young man boasts. He's rangy with an impressive leaping ability, he has large and enveloping hands and demonstrates a keen awareness of his feet and the sidelines. His routes look sharp (I especially liked the quick slant route which initially appeared would be a big play until Simpson fumbled the ball away), and his speed doesn't seem to be a problem. In the last two games, the former second-round pick has finally spread his wings some and now provides team management with a fall-back option should the two superstar receivers move on as they are expected to do.
Another sight for sore eyes is the contributions of one Chase Coffman. With Jermaine Gresham unable to give it a go on Sunday, Coffman stepped into the pass-catching tight-end role without a hiccup. Coffman had been knocked for his lack of blocking capability, but it didn't seem like a problem last week, and, similar to Simpson, makes me wonder what took so long working him into the offense. Fortunately, the plays Coffman put on tape will now demand that the team either play him or trade him. He doesn't have to be a starter, but he can become a viable passing option even with Gresham in the lineup. The kid can play, give him a chance to prove it.
One of the real concerns with the current coaching staff is their inability to progress their young players on offense. Since so many rookies and first-year players get such little opportunities to show off their skills, we as fans assume those young guys just aren't adjusting well to the NFL level. Yet when we see the likes of Simpson, Coffman, Bernard Scott, and even Cedric Peerman make such a positive impact on games, one has to wonder how much stubbornness, personal ego and an inability to adjust, plays a part in the hindrance of their careers. We tend to forget that teams are made up of human beings capable of making irrational decisions, like ignoring the projects until they expire and become useless.
Luckily for the youngsters, the Bengals season collapsed in on itself and forced management's hand to play them and see what they can do. What they can do is move the ball down field at an impressive rate on one of the league's best defenses, but what they can also do is fumble the ball away on crucial drives.
Still, the Bengals were not outplayed, and, for the most part only beat themselves...except on short yardage. The one calling-card that doesn't go away with the Ravens defense, is that they make plays when they have to. Not just on turnovers either -- often times, getting turnovers is more of a lucky occurrence than a well executed one -- but shutting down teams on third and short is the sign of an effective unit.
Twice in the first half, the Bengals were forced to punt after failing to pick up one yard or less. They did it again in the second half but were bailed out on fourth down by a Ravens encroachment penalty, and were stopped again on both third down and fourth down later on. Cincinnati went one for six on third or fourth-and-one and were simply pushed backward on such opportunities. Even though it was only one yard, not converting made scoring points extra difficult. Unlike last year, this rushing attack has been unable to gain the tough yards and that has had plenty to do with the disappointment of the season.
Had the Bengals been able to pull out even half of the games that came down to the last drive like this one did, they would be a far more respectable 8-8 or so. As it is, the loss to Baltimore in the finale marks their twelfth defeat in 16 games, which stands as a total failure for every man and woman anywhere within Paul Brown Stadium. Some of you Bengals had some displays of success and worthwhile play, but all in all, you are all losers once more. No matter where you are next season, you will have to wait until September to prove (at least to me) that you have improved, that you get it, and that you're a winner. Until then, I will hang my head in shame for ever believing in you. You let me down, Bengals, and not just this past Sunday.