Falling: Andy Dalton. The subject of so many divisive debates, the question about Andy Dalton will head into the offseason without much resolution. However the third-year quarterback, one that captained Cincinnati to a third consecutive postseason and his first AFC North title this year (well, if you ignore the defense), turned the football over three times against the Chargers on Sunday and inspired nothing short of a crushing defeat.
Despite the weekly and monthly awards, the single-season franchise records and all of the successes that Dalton has captured in his three years with the Bengals, there's the incapacity to succeed in a playoff game that is staining his Bengals career.
In two losses to the Houston Texans and now one with the San Diego Chargers, Dalton has completed 70 of 123 passes for 718 yards passing with one touchdown and six interceptions for a passer rating of 52.1 in the playoffs.
If you're asking what the team should do with Dalton, don't expect wholesale changes. However, at this point, I'd be surprised if the Bengals work out an extension with the quarterback, who is heading into contract year next season. And if the Bengals are truly looking to take the next step, they have to be open for change. Would you draft a quarterback and let him develop and/or battle it out with Dalton next year?
These are questions that the team should ask themselves, rather than sitting on the status quo and resting on their laurels.
Falling: Offensive Line. Partially accepting blame for Dalton's issues on Sunday, the offensive line didn't enhance their quarterback's confidence in the pocket.
Dalton is the type of quarterback that requires everyone else playing at their best, and their offensive line certainly wasn't. When Dalton wasn't being sacked three times on Sunday, he felt pass rushers breathing down his neck -- sometimes fictitiously, but enough happened to force Dalton to into freak-out scramble mode despite having a comfortable pocket that he abandoned.
Falling: Jay Gruden. Let me direct you to a tweet written by Aditi Kinkhabwala with the NFL Network.
Multiple Chargers tell me Bengals did NOTHING offensively that they hadn't prepared for. No tweaks, no surprises.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 5, 2014
Jay Gruden reminds me of Pinky and the Brain, who has honorable intentions, usually with disastrous ambitions that typically over-complicates something as simple as running for it on third and one. Wait, BenJarvus Green-Ellis just converted a third-and-one? Let's have Dalton scramble out of the pocket, throw on the run for Giovani Bernard on the next third and one.
Push: Defense. While we're not attributing blame, the Bengals defense, the guiding light to everything we lovingly cherish, couldn't step into the role of conquerers. It's difficult to ask them to overcome four offensive turnovers but they did hold San Diego just enough for the offense to step up and claim victory. Which they didn't.
However, in the first three quarters, the Bengals defense allowed 124 yards rushing (when the game was still being decided). More importantly, they failed to get off the field on two possessions in the first and third quarters respectively, allowing the Chargers to eat most of each period.
Again, in the necessity to cast "blame" on people, the defense isn't one. They kept Cincinnati in the game long enough for Cincinnati's offense to come through. However, the defense wasn't the all-star unit that we had come relied on all season to bail out the offense. They were good. Maybe above average. But not great. And that's my disappointment for bigger expectations.