The Bengals are the five seed and will play Sunday at 1 p.m. in Indianapolis
That is all Sunday's loss meant. What the Bengals players, coaches and fans want is a playoff win. Would it have been nice to win on Sunday night and take the division? Sure. But let's be honest, there isn't a single Bengals fan alive that would trade a win Sunday night for a playoff win. At this point, Bengals fans could care less about the regular season, success is mattered by postseason wins and if the Bengals win Sunday afternoon, everyone will forget about that game Sunday night.
The Bengals lost the division but may have received the preferred matchup
I hate losing to the Steelers. In fact, hate is probably not a strong enough word. However, a win would have meant the Bengals would have needed to beat the Ravens for a third time this season. That is hard to do. Also, while it may sound crazy to say that the matchup against the Colts, a team that pounded the Bengals earlier this year, is favorable to a matchup with the Ravens, a team the Bengals beat twice. But, I honestly believe this is the more winnable game.
The Colts seemingly peaked in their Week 7 matchup against the Bengals and have looked pretty unimpressive since, going 6-3 since. They've surrendering 42+ points three times and struggled at home against Jacksonville and a Tom Savage lead Texans team, plus on the road against the Browns and Titans. Meanwhile, the Bengals were depleted by injuries in Week 7, were missing all three starting linebackers, Brandon Thompson and A.J. Green and were forced to play Greg Little. Since that awful game, the Bengals have gone 7-3, gotten healthier, found a new starting running back and have played well in all but one game (Cleveland). It is hard to "like" a matchup against Andrew Luck, but when you look at how the teams matchup, this may be the Bengals most winnable playoff game of the Lewis era.
The Bengals defense played well enough to win
The Steelers scored three touchdowns - two off Bengal turnovers and one on a punt return. Just three weeks after allowing Bell to go for 185 yards on the ground (7.1 YPA), the Bengals defense held the AFC rushing champion to just 20 yards on eight carries (2.5 YPA). And prior to the Brown touchdown, (a 63 yard catch and run, which in my humble opinion, was offensive PI) the Bengals had held Roethlisberger and the number two offense to 254 yards through the air, one touchdown, and one interception. The defense did not play as well as they had in Cleveland or for three quarters against Denver, but with four minutes left in the game, the Steelers had 20 points, seven of which came off a punt return. That is an effort that the Bengals can win with.
The Bengals ticket to ending their 24 year playoff win drought wears No. 32
Since being named the starter in Week 15, Hill has averaged 23 carries, 132 YPG and nearly 6 YPA. In the Bengals' Week 7 loss in Indianapolis, Hill had just four carries for 15 yards (3.8 YPA). If the Bengals want to get their first playoff win since Sunday, January 6th 1991, Jeremy Hill needs to get the ball and get the ball often. Allowing 113.4 YPG, Indianapolis ranks 19th against the run and only eight teams have allowed more YPA on the ground than Indianapolis (4.3). When Indianapolis allows 25+ runs in a game, they are 2-5 with their only wins being a 1 point win in Cleveland and a 7 point win at home against a Tom Savage lead Texans team.
Andy Dalton is going to get Green killed by throwing high
Too often, Dalton throws high to an open Green on slant routes - and often leaves Green vulnerable (see biceps injury). At 6'4" with incredible leaping ability, Dalton has about a 12 foot window to hit and yet he misses him. The second pick on Sunday night was a perfect example. For the second week in a row, Dalton had Green wide open on a slant, threw high and the ball was picked. One was a pick six and the other turned into six. For the Bengals to make a deep run in the playoffs, Dalton has to make this throw.
If your take away from that game was: it was "Dalton's fault"/"Dalton sucks"/or the Bengals "Can't win with Dalton" - then you don't know football... and I probably can't help you - but I will try
Did Dalton play great? No. But, there were plenty of reasons the Bengals lost on Sunday night and if you want to play the "Blame Game" - and what fan doesn't - Dalton should be about fifth or sixth on your list. My list would go as follows:
1) The punt return - That touchdown return was killer and Antonio Brown now has three punt returns in his career, all against the Bengals and one in three of the last four games played in Pittsburgh
2) The defensive line - The pressure on Roethlisberger was embarrassing Sunday night. Roethlisberger has now thrown 77 passes against the Bengals in 2014 and has been sacked zero times
3) Green - The first pick was Green's fault. He made a terrible attempt to tackle Brice McCain for a safety and then he fumbled with less than four minutes to go with the Bengals on the edge of field goal range, down three.
4) Hue Jackson's game plan - Yes, Dalton had a big game the first time these two met, but everyone knows Dalton's track record in primetime games. Dalton should not be throwing 38 times, especially not when he's averaging 4.3 YPA. The Bengals are 3-4-1 when Dalton throws it 29+ times and 7-1 when he throws it less than 29 times.
5) The pass defense - Hall had another poor game, they let Bell catch six balls for 80 yards, they had some missed tackles, and OPI or not, they let Brown get lose for a 63 yard backbreaking touchdown
6) Dalton - The second pick was a terrible pass, likely costing the Bengals at least three points and giving the Steelers seven points. When you throw high, bad things happen.
Dalton did not play great...but played well enough to win
As I said above, the second pick was a terrible pass and caused a 10-14 point swing. That is two weeks in a row he threw high to Green on a slant where Green was wide open. Both resulted in a pick and a touchdown for the opponent - and one lead to Green nearly breaking his wing. When you throw high, bad things happen. That being said, Dalton completed 71.1% of his throws for 244 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 83.7 rating. Those are numbers you can win with. Dalton had a nicely improvised pass to Bernard on the first touchdown, a nice throw on the run to Ryan Hewitt and made a good read on the Jermaine Gresham touchdown. Before Green's fumble, Dalton was leading the Bengals down the field, in Pittsburgh, on primetime, for what would have been a game tying field goal or game winning touchdown.
Green had yet another terrible game under the bright lights, however, the talk will be about Dalton and his picks
I say this all the time, I love Green but the guy shows little fire and constantly disappears in big games and against top corners. Just three weeks ago, Green torched that secondary for 224 yards, yet under the lights on Sunday night, he went like this: stopped route resulting in a pick and costing the Bengals at least an attempt at three points; an embarrassing effort of making the tackle on the first pick, a tackle which could have resulted in a safety, a 7-2 deficit and the ball; and last but not least, a fumble on the Pittsburgh 30 yard line with 3:51 remaining, with the Bengals driving for a game tying field goal or a game winning (division winning) touchdown.
After the game, corner back Antwon Blake said the Steelers coaches told the players to go for the ball when Green catches it because he doesn't secure the football and Blake is absolutely right. Green is notorious for carelessly holding the ball and has had some big fumbles in his four years in the NFL. To add salt to the wound, Green suffered a concussion after losing the fumble. When Dalton has that sort of game, fans come at him with pitch forks and fire. When Green has a game like that, the same fans brush it under the rug, claim Green is the only reason Dalton has decent numbers... and then deflect blame back to Dalton.
The Bengals should never punt to Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown has three punt returns for a touchdown in his NFL career. All three have come against the Bengals. Kevin Huber has had three punts returned for a touchdown. All of which have come compliments of Brown. In three of the last four games in Pittsburgh, Brown has returned a punt for a touchdown. One of those touchdowns saw the Bengals Pro Bowl punter get his face broken. So, the Bengals were punting to Brown, why?
Hue Jackson's game plans have been head scratching all year
I don't care that Dalton had a big game against the Steelers three weeks ago, unless it is out of necessity, Dalton should never throw the ball 38 times - it's a recipe for losing. Dalton should not have had more than 25 passes with the game being within one score for essentially the entire game, Dalton having two picks and Hill getting 4.3 YPA,. Feed the big back, especially on the road.
The inability of the defensive line to get a pass rush is disconcerting
Justin Houston (22.0) and JJ Watt (20.5) had more sacks than the Bengals as a team. That is all you need to know about the effectiveness of the Bengals' line in 2014. If you think it's because of the loss of Michael Johnson, save your breath - he had 3.5 sacks in 2013, that is not the reason for the big drop off. Ben Roethlisberger threw 77 passes against the Bengals in 2014 and was sacked zero times. If the line plays like that against Andrew Luck, it could be another short stay for the Bengals in the playoffs.
There is zero consistency when it comes to calling OPI and DPI
If the tick tack touches on Hall and Kirkpatrick were defensive PI, than the pulling of Kirkpatrick by Brown was offensive PI. Playing defensive back in this league has to be so frustrating.
The Steelers attempted the worst fake punt I have ever seen
I have never seen a more ill-conceived fake punt in my life. For a moment I thought the 1993 Bengals had entered the stadium and dressed as the 2014 Steelers. I was also convinced at that moment that the Steelers were attempting to throw the game so they could play Indianapolis and avoid Baltimore.
If Mike Tomlin had an issue with Reggie Nelson, then he is a clown
I like Mike Tomlin's fire, and I will preface this by saying this is all speculation, as no one knows what the conversation between Tomlin and Reggie Nelson was regarding. However, assuming it was regarding the hit on Bell, Tomlin was out of line and made a clown of himself. Coaches shouldn't be starting arguments with players - especially coaches who have been fined for standing on the field and obstructing a kick return.