One has to ask, what the hell happened to the Bengals defense?
During Cincinnati's three-game losing streak, it's arguable that the Bengals defense has once again become the team's biggest liability.
Brian Leonard had just scored with 10:50 left in the game against the Cleveland Browns. After an exchange in punts, the Browns picked up two first downs, eventually leading a second-and-seven with 2:46 left in the game on Cleveland's 30-yard line. Peyton Hillis gets the handoff, bounces to the outside, easily avoiding former first round pick Keith Rivers, sprinting down the sidelines for a 24-yard gain. With Cincinnati having used their timeouts earlier in the hope that they'll have time left when they get the ball back, the Browns took three knees and won the game. We can blame the offense for a variety of things against the Browns. Yet, the game was officially lost during Hillis' 24-yard run.
While it would be justified to label Cincinnati's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Carson Palmer's late game blunder, which should have equal blame to the play-calling for passing it on third down with just over two minutes left, in order for the Buccaneers to score 10 points in the game's final 1:34, they would have to do it against the Bengals defense. Carson Palmer's first interception gave Tampa Bay a first down at midfield. Cincinnati's defense quickly surrenders completed passes by Josh Freeman for gains of six, nine and 15 yards before the game was tied on Mike Williams' 20-yard touchdown reception in the back of the endzone. Carson Palmer's second interception gave Tampa Bay the football on Cincinnati's 34-yard line. Freeman hit Michael Spurlock down the right sidelines, falling out with (as legend has it) both toes on the field and (as legend has it) total control of the football. And it wasn't just any reception. It was a 21-yard reception that pushed a possible 51-yard field goal attempt into an easy 31-yard field goal conversion for the win with seconds remaining in the game.
Then there's the defense's fourth quarter collapse, allowing 15 points to the Atlanta Falcons with the defense giving up five first downs, four plays of 10 yards or more, and consuming 8:07 off of the clock.
This is the second time this year that the Bengals gave up 38 points or more in a loss; New England being the other. In both games, the Bengals defense gave up a total of 31 points in the second quarter alone. Against Baltimore, Carolina, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, the defense combined to give up 13 fourth quarter points. Against the Patriots and Falcons, the Bengals defense gave up 22. The loss to the Falcons also represents the second time this year that the Bengals defense allowed the opposing offense to convert over 50% of their third down opportunities, with a terrible red zone defense that allowed three touchdowns of the second time this year.
And to make matters worse, the Bengals defense has allowed over 375 yards of total yards to the opposing offense in half of their games this year; New England (376), Tampa Bay (391), Atlanta (452). Comparatively speaking, last year's defense only allowed two offenses to record 375 yards or more of total offense all year.
Aside from the obvious lacking in the department of being awesome, the Bengals defense's worst attribute is their inability prevent touchdowns and first downs late in the game. And every time an opportunity presents itself in which the team stands up against a challenge to help the team win late, the Bengals defense actually progressively gets worse.