For the second week in a row, the Bengals lost. No one enjoys having to confront the crushing feeling of the team losing a game that they had the means to win, but there's something to be said about coming so close to winning after an abysmal third quarter, right? The Bengals gave up 21 unanswered points before returning to a competitive state and tying the game up with a little over a minute remaining. But, they were unable to hold off Carson Palmer's passing attack, which set the Cardinals up for the game winning field goal.
Bengals fans can potentially take solace in the fact that they lost to a good team. By most accounts, the Cardinals have one of the best offenses and defenses in the league. Aside from the Patriots, they could potentially have the most complete team in the NFL, with the Bengals being in that conversation, too.
Unfortunately, we still have to deal with the aftermath of a loss. Obviously football is a team sport and blaming any one particular player is short sighted, but the way I see it, these are the players who dropped the ball, so to speak, in critical moments. Vote on who you think was the "goat of the week", and leave your two cents in the comments.
The Bengals' secondary
Two members of the Bengals' secondary did fairly well this week, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall. While allowing Carson Palmer to throw for 300+ yards and four touchdowns isn't exactly great, the two interceptions (one from each of Nelson and Hall) helped the team to build some early momentum. That translated into a one touchdown lead at halftime. Palmer and the Cardinals' offense shredded the Bengals' defense in the third quarter to require another massive Bengals' comeback, and, it almost happened!
Andy Dalton drove the Bengals' offense down the field for the game-tying field goal after closing the 14 point gap established in the third quarter, but the Bengals' defense couldn't stop the Cardinals' passing attack for the one minute and three seconds that remained in the clock. It almost reminds you of that Broncos' drive in 2009 when Kyle Orton threw a hail mary pass to Brandon Stokley with no time remaining for the unbelievable win. With Stokley, it was Hall getting burnt, and this time he was responsible for one of three 15+ yard passing plays that the Cardinals put together completely at will. George Iloka and Dre Kirkpatrick also got in on the action, doing virtually nothing to stop the Cardinals' attack.
It's not a great sign that after the Bengals' two losses, A.J. Green makes an appearance on both goat of the week posts. He deserves credit for being part of a 42-yard pass play that helped to breathe life into the Bengals' passing attack, which struggled mightily last week, but he only hauled in four of his 12 targets. Some of the plays coming in his direction saw him out of position and for others he was well-covered by Patrick Peterson.
Granted, part of the Cardinals' game plan was to play great defense on Green and focus on shutting him down, but he has enough talent that he should have made more of an impact than he did. Tyler Eifert, Mohamed Sanu, and to an extent Marvin Jones showed up this week and made Green's impact less pivotal than it was against the Texans. But, he is a major part of the Bengals' offense and when he struggles, the whole team struggles.
Why on earth Paul Guenther thought it was a good idea to have Emmanuel Lamur, Vincent Rey, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap cover J.J. Nelson, I'll never be able to figure out. Nelson took advantage of the awful mismatches to shred the Bengals' defense for 142 yards receiving and a touchdown. One of Nelson's catches turned into a 64 yard touchdown that allowed the Cardinals to tie the game on the Cardinals' first drive of the third quarter, which pretty much negated any advantage the Bengals had built in the first half.
There's plenty more to be upset with from Guenther this week, but the worst part is the absolute collapse of the defense at the end of the game. The Bengals created an eight game undefeated streak in the first half of the season by playing a bend but don't break style defense. They'd let field goals go regularly, but they wouldn't let you in the endzone. The problem is, when the game is tied with a minute and three seconds left on the clock, a field goal is just as devastating to the team's chances to win as anything. Guenther's defense fell like a house of cards in the final minute of the game.
To be fair, Mohamed Sanu's touchdown that was nullified by Andre Smith's holding call was followed up by a few more plays and a Tyler Eifert touchdown two minutes later. He did not directly cost the team points, but this trend of offensive linemen (Smith in particular) killing the Bengals' momentum with boneheaded penalties has got to stop. It was a problem largely ignored for the first half of the season (mind you, not by Cincy Jungle) because the Bengals were winning. But, these penalties kill drives and negate points.
Smith was also responsible for Andy Dalton fumble in the middle of the fourth quarter. Granted, the drive was going nowhere. But, with the fumble happening on the Bengals' 17 yard line, it set the Cardinals up for a chip shot of a field goal that put the Cardinals back up by 10 points. The Bengals answered it with a touchdown, a forced three and out, and a field goal to tie the game back up, but punting back to the Cardinals would have been preferable in that situation.
Football is a game of little things going one way or another, and Smith had a few of his little things go wrong at very bad times for the Bengals.
Speaking of killing momentum, Andre Smith needs to learn the rule book. The 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty that he was called for at the end of the second quarter nearly forced the Bengals into a situation where the Cardinals could have entered halftime tied or even with a possible lead. Luckily, things calmed down and the Bengals were able to get back together and put up a touchdown on the drive. But, these are the kind of mistakes that have haunted them all season. They might not be so lucky next time.