A refurbished team, a familiar foe, and a familiar loss. Cincy Jungle's Andrew Miller reflects on the Bengals primetime collapse on Sunday night.
Tune into any nationally broadcast sports talk station and it's typically the same discussion when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals: What did [insert opposing team] do right or wrong that lead to the overall outcome against Cincinnati? The Bengals tend to serve as a platform in which many national sports personalities can utilize to discuss any National Football League team not named the Bengals. This isn't anything new. In fact, Cincinnati has largely been overlooked by major media outlets for years, even when successful, due to being a small market and generally being underwhelming over the past few decades.
On Monday morning, however, it seemed to be a firm twist of the knife deeply implanted in our sides after a humiliating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. The Bengals didn't deserve attention. They didn't command more than a scoring recap before a commercial break on Monday morning. Cam Newton can sulk in front of the media in a sweater that appeared to be hand knitted by Zooey Deschanel on a rainy afternoon while accompanied by her chatty Siri, and it predictably creates a media circus. Andy Dalton, meanwhile, humbly addresses the Bengals seemingly predictable loss to their division rivals and disappears back into the shadows of a bye week that couldn't have arrived any sooner.
Even Pittsburgh Steelers fans refused to allow Cincinnati fans to celebrate their hometown franchise as the "Orange Out" in Paul Brown stadium was saturated with shades of yellow furiously twirling throughout the stands. Sunday's loss was the same tired experience many Bengals fans have experienced when facing the Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is swarmed with Bengals defenders, so he extends the play for a huge completion downfield. Antonio Brown plays like a Pro Bowler when seeing stripes. There was even a bit of controversy sprinkled over the game as Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders conveniently struggled to stand on his own power well after a play was called dead, creating an injury timeout. The ESPN crew laughed about it on their C'Mon segment.
The Bengals have had their share of self-defeat that permeated Sunday's loss as well. Marvin Lewis throws a red challenge flag as a buzz kill to the "Orange Out," and fails twice. The Bengals "start fast," Marvin Lewis' 2012 mantra for the team, but once again fizzled during the second half. The Andy Dalton to A.J. Green formula for success seemed to be exposed as the only weapon in the Bengals arsenal, shut down for most of the game. The Bengals weaker spots on defense, particularly at defensive end and linebacker, have yet to show significant improvement though Vontaze Burfict and his 15 tackles was the rage on Monday.
Yet, with all the struggles the Bengals presented on Sunday night, the scoreboard seemed to tell a different story. A 24-17 victory is hardly the definition of domination. Aside from the run game, the Steelers did little in terms of surprise. Pittsburgh has been plagued by injury and hasn't exactly been explosive on both sides of the ball this season. No, Pittsburgh's 24 points shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, outside of the aforementioned season-high running attack by the inexperienced Jonathan Dwyer and Ike Taylor holding A.J. Green to one catch (and a touchdown), Pittsburgh didn't have the same intimidating presence that's historically defined their franchise. Dropped passes, several turnovers, and offensive ineptitude until faced with a third down - the Steelers looked like a shell of their former self, but the Bengals still couldn't capitalize.
What the scoreboard should tell is not the story of the Steelers coming in to Cincinnati and beating their familiar foe. It should tell the story of a Cincinnati team that fell short in their own house. It should tell the story of a Cincinnati team that couldn't generate more than 185 total yards of offense. While many national media outlets will be dissecting Pittsburgh's win and searching for answers for what it means for the Steelers from here on out, we in Cincinnati know the answer: The Bengals walked onto the field Sunday night without ever showing up.