I understand that some fans will bemoan the fact that the Bengals finished the season 4-3-1, after going 0-8 in the first half of the season. To each their own, I say. Me? I enjoy wins. Wins. Whether it's against the Jaguars, Browns, Redskins or Chiefs, I love winning. Whether it's barely beating a team by two points, seven points, or shutting out Cleveland, it's a win. Do I expect the Bengals three-game winning streak to squash any hope of hiring a General Manager any time soon? No. I never expected the Bengals to hire one anyway (not getting hope up type of thing). The team's second half performance had little bearing on that one way or the other.
At the heart of the Bengals three-game winning steak, is their vastly improved performance on defense. Opposing passing offenses are generally infective, while the Bengals haven't allowed more than four third down conversions in any of the past three games.
|3rd Down Conv.||4-14||4-12||4-13|
|TD / INT Ratio||1-0||0-4||1-0|
Not only that, but the Bengals didn't allow a single point in seven straight quarters before Tony Gonzalez scored a late fourth quarter touchdown. And before that touchdown, the Bengals didn't allow any touchdowns for nine straight quarters. This could have been extended into the off-season if not for a Brandon Johnson pass interference call on a badly thrown ball that should have been called deemed "uncatchable"; though a defensive holding would have been appropriate.
For a time, we (on the game thread) were hoping to pitch a shutout. So much so, I looked up some shutout numbers (those of you on the game thread, it's the same numbers). The Bengals have never had a shutout in back-to-back games in franchise history. They've only scored two shutouts in a single season once -- 1975 (21-0, week 2 against Saints; 31-0, week 12 against Eagles). In their history, the Bengals have recorded only nine shutouts; three against the Browns, two against the Vikings, and games against Tampa Bay, San Diego, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Of those nine shutouts, five came in the 1970s. Sadly, it didn't happen; even though the Chiefs failed to convert on four straight plays to score from the one-yard line, given a second life with Johnson's pass interference for a new set of downs (and eventually the touchdown).
Causing seven total turnovers in the past three games, while turning the ball over once on offense for a +6 differential, is largely credited. But so is the team's defensive line, linebackers and secondary; bending but refusing to break.
Will the Bengals take this defensive momentum into the off-season? The optimistic are hopeful. The pessimistic will just say that this is another device of Mike Brown to limit off-season change. All I know is that the Bengals finished the season with a three-game winning streak, pulling out of the basement to land in third place of the AFC North.
Chris Crocker is a keeper, and Leon Hall played well (though he was very iffy at times). Chinedum Ndukwe is our best defensive player, while Dhani Jones brought tons of stability at linebacker when last season, it was a position that we couldn't fully staff. Brandon Johnson and Darryl Blackstock were good off-season signings and Pat Sims was definitely worth drafting.
Including some off-season acquisitions, specifically in the draft, with the return of Keith Rivers, Corey Lynch and (likely) increased role by Jason Shirley, there's a lot to be excited about. With a bunch of back up role players stepping up, taking large credit for the Bengals end-of-the-season three-game winning streak, there's no reason not to be.
Disclaimer: This piece is regarding the play of our defensive players, stepping up and performing when they could have easily packed it in for the season. This piece in no way is reflective of the team's front office off-season plans, the curse of Mike Brown, or any of that jazz. We can leave that for another day.