Anyway you slice that one, it was painful!
You can look at the O and the relative performance of Dalton vs. prior weeks. You can look at the D and its consistency. You can look at the refereeing that was some of the worst we have seen in a number of years. And you can look at the roster situation that was bad going into the game and became a Halloween Horror by the end.
Before we push into conclusions this week, I'm simply going to go over these above issues as I encountered them from various media sources.
On Dalton's end the NFL Network analysts agreed unanimously that Dalton's performance was inconsistent and at times terrible. They didn't comment on the fact that it rained shortly before the game leaving a layer of slime on the ball that led to a number of drops and slips when catching and throwing the ball, respectively. The concept here is that the Dolphins were playing with the same ball and didn't make the same mistakes. Dalton is still guilty of late and poor placement on his outcut throws, and that fact led to 10 of the Dolphins' 20 regulation time points - 3 on the FG just before halftime and 7 on the Pick 6 deep in the Fish territory. Earlier in the day I was listening to Pat Kirwan discussing on Sirius where Dalton ranked in the QB list and where his contract extension might fall at the end of 2013. Kirwan felt the rank was about #12-13 in the league while the extension would probably be about $50 mil over 4 years. This was all predicated with the notion that Dalton's play would continue to be consistent and that the Bengals would ascend to some playoff success. Anything less than that would drop Dalton's renegotiation power. He has been up-and-down this year illustrating the fact that he is not close to a finished product. In post-game interviews he again failed to take overt responsibility for the things he did that cost his team the game, and there were several. For starters, Dalton was careless on the game's last play when he felt the rush and did not either get rid of the ball immediately or force himself completely back onto the field of play. Forget that Zeitler stunk the place up with his Pass Pro. Now we're talking about a QB who wants $50 million for his play, and he must be able to make those plays in crunch time. What created that 3rd down situation was Dalton's attempt to throw deep to Green out of his own endzone the play prior on 2nd-and-10. If that play works, he's a genius. If not, he's an idiot. There's no between there when the game is in the balance, and he completely missed Tyler Eifert who had a seam about 15 yards downfield on that play. So, yes, I am being critical again of Dalton because he was the QB who couldn't make the plays in a game we lost by inches on several occasions and because he reverted in the waning moments to a QB who can't see more than the #18. We already discussed the two INTs that led to points. We should also mention that the O did not sustain the end of game drive that would have allowed Nugent to kick another walk off FG instead getting stopped and allowing Taneyhill the chance to drive for the tying FG. $50 million QBs close the door on 3rd-and-4 instead of offering an uncatchable deep ball out of bounds and leaving the K with a 54-yard attempt.
The defensive consistency was lax against the run in the 1st half and poor against the pass when it mattered in the second half. However, it bent but did not break. The O lost this one when the D injuries required that the O be the defining factor. We missed Hall are going to miss Atkins immensely. The NFL Network crewmember Marshall Faulk said that he thought the Bengals would win the division and fail to win a playoff game again. I'm not so sure that we can win the division at this point given our injury situation. We travel to Baltimore next, and a Ravens win this weekend and next (against us) would put them only 1 win behind us. Yes, we can be tough. No, we're not going to quit. Now we're finding out how tough we are and, in many senses, are getting experience to make a run for the Super Bowl in 2014 (which may be our last decent chance with the current roster structure to make such a run). So on the D side here, I'm going to give these guys a lot of credit for their effort vs. the Dolphins. Pacman played very well. Dunlap made a great play on that Forced Fumble downfield. Burfict was Burfict. How much better can the D play, however, without their two best players? We're about to find out.
Quickly on the refereeing, let me count the ways. I'm going to give the NFL officiating guy the benefit of the doubt on the interpretation of the safety since they stated the ruling was confirmed and because I didn't realize the whole ball had to be breaking the plane of the goalline onto the field of play to avoid the deuce. However, that NFL dude lied about confirming that the WR's foot was down on the 20-yard completion to Hartline in the game-tying drive at the end of regulation. I suspected that call in real time and didn't get to see the real slo-mo until after the game. That's such a huge play at that point in the game that they should have stopped the game and reviewed it. The second foot did not touch until it landed on the out-of-bounds marker. But the refs also missed the personal foul call on Sanu's drop/deflection that resulted in an INT inside the Dolphin 10 yard line in the 4th Qtr. That took away a scoring opportunity, and the hit was very obvious. We can even get into the call on Gresham for holding on Jones' TD catch. I couldn't see the hold on two replays, and the NFL Network crew basically said that it was a BS call. Add those all up guys (and gals), and you have a lot of points being taken away from Cincy. You have 7 off the board on the Jones play, and 7 on the board for Miami since the Pick 6 came at the end of that drive. You have 3 at the end going to Miami to tie the game. And you have at least 3 taken away for the missed Sanu personal foul. That's a 20-point differential in regulation for an OT game. That game wasn't even close.
Finally, we have to be real about the injury situation. There is a plague on D where we have now lost Hall, Mays, Lamur, Porter, Geathers, and Atkins. Further, Maualuga and Still are out for extended time, while Boley is week-to-week. On O we're only missing Whitworth who may very well be back against Baltimore. So, again, the O has to step up the rest of this season and prove that it is a playoff caliber unit. We can't expect half of a D to save us now, and Dalton will need to illustrate that he's worthy of a $50 million deal. This type of seasoning may either send us back to Purgatory for another set of years as the Carson Palmer injury did in early 2006, or we may see Dalton and the O rise from the ashes to compete strongly and prepare us on both sides of the ball for a real chance to win a Super Bowl next season. Nobody gives up on game day, but get real CJ - this 2013 equation has become unsolvable.
Prior 5 Primary Conclusions
1. Injuries: worse today than we could have imagined a week ago. Losing Leon Hall now seems like child's play
2. Sanu: more questions than ever. What use is a relatively slow WR with bad hands? He dropped two key passes - one on the last drive in OT that may have allowed the FG or a prolonged drive instead of a punt; one that resulted in an INT in the red zone early in the 4th Qtr. He had some nice catches too but was very inconsistent.
3. Lack of forced TOs by D: -3 TO ratio won't keep us in many games
4. Dalton-Gruden Axis: Dalton's play was again on the inconsistent side. He had some bad drops and bad routes by WRs but continues to make key mistakes on basic QB mechanics.
5. Identity / Chemistry / Leadership: We're about to find out what we're made of
Moving Forward Conclusions
1. Coaching Decision Tree: I actually felt that Lewis and Gruden did a nice job in Miami. There were just too many mistakes along the lines of key drops, poorly thrown balls, and missed ref calls to have made that one work. If we had a timeout in those last seconds of regulation, Marv should have called timeout on that Hartline catch to give the review booth more time. In hindsight, we all would have tried the long FG for Nugent in OT. But that's easy to say now. The key plays in that decision were the two plays that preceded the decision to punt: Sanu's drop and Dalton's "no chance" 3rd down throw in the direction of Green.
2. Injuries: Might as well say it again here because there is no larger issue. The injury to Atkins is a season-changer and may very well keep the team out of the playoffs. You may call that defeatest; I'm just keeping it real here, folks.
3. Dalton: What came from this game simply was an opportunity opening for our QB. Now there can be no mistake: the rest of this season clearly rides on the ability of Andy Dalton to win games. We don't have a dominating run game, and the D is limping to the finish line.
4. Gio Bernard: Great run. Is the rib really that bad?
5. Does God hate the Bengals? Just thought I'd ask.
I am stunned by the sudden losses of Leon Hall and Geno Atkins. That's a lot of cash coming from Mikey's wheelbarrow, and I'm sure that he's nursing a huge hangover today. His $55 million guy who walks like a duck just laid an egg. Not even funny. You just saw the happiness lights go on in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Deja Vu all over again circa January 6, 2006. The Bengals were stuck with a Thursday night game that took them down. We almost won that game, too - that's the craziest part of this whole thing. The refs stole any part of that game that we didn't blow ourselves. However, the beat goes on, doesn't it? Mike Brown will still be taking the ticket money, selling hotdogs, and hawking programs for the rest of 2013. This is a business transaction in the end, and everyone is still getting paid. This team has a lot of character, and I predict that they are going to continue showing up on Sundays. It may not be as glorious, but I'll be there too.