QUARTERBACK: Is there a position in professional sports that invites so much criticism than quarterback? Avoiding long-term examinations about Dalton, when the most important game mattered the most, Dalton was about as inspiring as a tour through a triage after a natural disaster. Yes, it's a team loss but Dalton did nothing to reverse Cincinnati's disastrous trend in the second half. He didn't complete a pass in the third quarter and turned it over three times in the second half. You really couldn't have played much worse than that. The only reason we didn't go with a solid "F" is because there are factors that didn't help Dalton out in the end (which seems to me as more of an indictment against him, than for him).
RUNNING BACKS: Perhaps the most optimistic group on offense, Cincinnati had a good rushing offense in the first half averaging 4.1 yards per rush. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for 53 yards rushing in the opening two quarters, with Bernard adding 31 yards in the air. Unfortunately, as San Diego's lead began to grow in the second half, Cincinnati's rushing offense was greatly marginalized. Green-Ellis only ran twice in the second half and Bernard generated 19 yards on five boring carries in the second half. However, Bernard's second quarter fumble on San Diego's four-yard line was a killer.
WIDE RECEIVER: Marvin Jones was awesome, breaking Cris Collinsworth's 30-plus year old franchise record for most yards receiving in a playoff game. He snagged eight passes for 130 yards receiving, including an inspiring second quarter grab that netted 49 yards. Beyond that, crickets. A.J. Green caught three passes on nine targets (not all catchable) for 34 yards. Andrew Hawkins added three catches for 20 yards and Mohamed Sanu added a 13-yard reception late in the second quarter.
Grade: C+ (Jones w/ an A)
TIGHT END: Jermaine Gresham caught all seven passes thrown his way for 64 yards (nor did he fumble the football... we double-checked). Tyler Eifert only played three snaps and was the target on Dalton's second interception (bad read by the quarterback). Both graded as a neutral blocker, via PFF.
OFFENSIVE LINE: If we're going to talk grades, let's look at the offensive line. Dalton was pressured on 13 of 57 drop backs, which roughly translates into average in the league -- many of it was Dalton's own doing by running into pressure after his internal clock expired. The offensive line was blamed for only one sack and Anthony Collins allowed the only hit that didn't result in a quarterback sack. Collins, Andrew Whitworth, Mike Pollak, Andre Smith, Kyle Cook graded with positive or neutral pass blocking scores. Kevin Zeitler was the worst (-1.3). Cook and Dennis Roland, who was the sixth offensive lineman on 12 plays, were the only linemen that graded negatively on running downs.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Carlos Dunlap was the only defensive lineman that added multiple pressures (4). Michael Johnson added a pressure and hit while Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt each added a pressure. Cincinnati did get pressure, but struggled to bring Rivers down. More alarming is that Cincinnati's defense allowed San Diego to generate 196 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns. But a lot of that was garbage time. Fine. When the game mattered through the first three quarters, Cincinnati still allowed 124 yards rushing. Without the use of grades, scores, or examples, and using the eye test, the Bengals defensive front was pushed around in the running game.
LINEBACKER: Read the above because linebackers and the defensive line are symbiotic units. One will affect the other. Rey Maualuga had a strong outing with a team-leading five defensive stops (constituting an offensive stop) and 15 tackles. Vontaze Burfict generated a shared sack, a quarterback hit but only seven tackles. It wasn't a bad day for Cincinnati's linebackers, but it wasn't particularly memorable either.
SECONDARY: Rivers only threw the football 16 times with 19 total drop backs (scrambled twice and was sacked once). He completed 12 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown. Kirkpatrick allowed a 33-yarder in the third quarter that eventually led to a score. Rivers completed both passes when targeting Adam Jones for 34 yards. Very pedestrian.
SPECIAL TEAMS: No major issues. Zoltan Mesko dropped two of his three punts inside the 20 and added an 50-yarder. Brandon Tate averaged 25.6 yards on five kickoff returns, but was lost his compass when determining north and south, instead electing to go sideline to sideline on three punt returns.