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What We Learned about the Bengals in Week 14

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A week after all went right for the Bengals in Cleveland, the team's fortunes did a complete 180 against their biggest AFC North rival. Is all lost? Definitely not. But the road to the Super Bowl just got a whole lot tougher.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"If anything can go wrong, it will." - Murphy's Law. I doubt Captain Edward Murphy ever thought his law would be applied to a Cincinnati Bengals football game, but on Sunday, few things could describe that game more accurately from a Bengals perspective. It was ugly. It could not have gone worse. But, luckily for the Bengals, all is not lost in the 2015 season.

Hue Jackson got cute in the redzone...again, and may have cost the Bengals Andy Dalton and a bye.

Don't get me wrong, I am not excusing Dalton's decision to make that throw on his interception, it was an incredible play by Stephon Tuitt. However, my problem was not as much with Dalton's pass, as much as it was with the play call. How many times this year have we talked about how cute Hue Jackson has tried to get inside the five (i.e. passes to Jake Fisher). To this point, it hadn't hurt the Bengals, but we always said...what if. Well, the what if occurred - and it reared its ugly head with the worst possible scenario - an injury to the team's MVP caliber quarterback. On second and four, why not run? Or throw or normal pass? Or a normal screen for that matter? Why is Jackson trying to run an inside screen inside the five? In my opinion, he tried to out think the Steelers and instead, may have outthought himself and cost the Bengals their shot at a Super Bowl.

The Bengals' Super Bowl hopes took a huge hit.

The Bengals are still on the cusp of clinching the division and thanks to the Denver loss, still have the inside track and control their destiny for a first round bye. But, with their leader and MVP caliber quarterback on the sideline with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand, their chances of a real Super Bowl run have taken a huge blow. Even if Dalton makes it back for the playoffs, you would have to wonder how effective he could be. For a quarterback, the thumb is key to velocity, accuracy and the ability to secure the football when getting hit. Not to mention, even if Dalton's thumb is 100% for the first playoff game, his timing with his receivers won't be nearly where it is currently. Six months ago all the talk (a lot from Bengals fans themselves) was "how can the Bengals ever win in the playoffs with Dalton?" Isn't it amazing how quickly that has turned into "how can the Bengals win in the playoffs without Dalton?"

The fans of Cincinnati sports cannot get a break on big season injuries.

I have been rooting for Cincinnati sports for 34 years now, and nearly every great season I can remember, was blown up by a big injury. For the Bengals: 1988 had Tim Krumrie in the Super Bowl; 2005 had Carson Palmer and Chris Henry on the first game of the Wild Card matchup; 2015 now has Andy Dalton in Week 14. For the Bearcats: 2000 saw the No. 1 rated Bearcats lose the best player in college basketball (Kenyon Martin) in the conference tournament. For the Reds: 2012 saw Johnny Cueto leave with an injury early in Game 1 of the first round; heck, 1990 even saw Eric Davis lacerate a kidney - though luckily this occurred late enough in the series that it did not cost them. It just seems that when a Cincinnati team is doing well, a season ending injury to their star player is just around the corner. I will go knock on wood now.

The officials never had control of that game.

Some games, you just know will be chippy. Given all the talk and history coming into this game, it is safe to say the officials should have been on high alert from warmups through the final whistle. That is what makes it even more inexcusable that the officials did not do more to reign in the early nonsense. By enforcing the rules, the officials could have gained the attention of both coaches and both teams right off the bat and saved us from all the extracurricular BS that went on.

Speaking of terrible, how about the announcers (Greg Gumbel and Trent Green)?

During the broadcast, I heard the following: Trevor Burfict (Greg Gumbel); "the Steelers stayed more composed despite doubling the personal fouls of the Bengals" (Trent Green); and best of all, Gumbel mumbled something about how Dalton and Eifert's presence wouldn't have altered the game??? Where do they find these guys?

AJ McCarron should be able to keep the ship afloat.

Sure, he had some bad moments, the two brutal interceptions come to mind (particularly the  pick six), but he also had some flashes. The deep touchdown to A.J. Green was a beautiful ball, as was his back shoulder touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead. In my opinion, McCarron played very well given the circumstances - four NFL passes, zero practice reps and being forced into a heated rivalry.

The Bengals banged up secondary played unbelievable - in my opinion.

Given the explosiveness of the Steelers offense and the players the Bengals were missing in their secondary, I thought Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers might have a 4+ passing touchdowns and 400+ yards. Much to my surprise, they held Ben to 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, an 85.6 rating and less than 300 yards. They also held Antonio Brown to just 87 yards on 7 catches and didn't allow a single receiver to surpass 90 yards. The only other team to keep Roethlisberger from throwing a touchdown pass this season was the Rams. In my opinion, that performance by the secondary was nothing short of amazing.

The Steelers were an unofficial 800 for 800 on third down conversions.

Coming into the game, I talked about how the key to the game would be the pressure the Bengals line could get on Roethlisberger. Geno Atkins never really made his presence known and just two sacks and four quarterback hits on 40+ called passes was not enough from the Bengals. Although the secondary held their own, Roethlisberger had too much time in the pocket and nowhere was that more evident than on third down conversions (57.1%). Roethlisberger completed his first seven third down passes and the Steelers converted their first five third down conversions, leading to a quick 10-0 lead. While the Bengals improved as the game went on, it is tough to win letting your opponent convert nearly 60% of their third downs.

Andrew Whitworth is 100% right on another social issue...and the NFL will ignore it...again.

Back in October, when the NFL Network showed many Bengals partially naked on TVs across America, I wrote a scathing article about the NFL's locker room policy and the need for a change. A large portion of that article was anchored around the statements made by Andrew Whitworth - statements that were 100% from Whitworth's heart, rue and the type of statements most players (or employee) are reluctant to verbalize. Not Whitworth. Unlike many in today's world, Whitworth stands for something and when something is wrong he isn't afraid to say it - that is what leaders do, and that is exactly what Whitworth is.

That leads us to this past Sunday. Prior to the game there was a confrontation between Vontaze Burfict and Vince Williams - who is "Vince Williams" you ask? Don't be embarrassed, only his position coach probably knows his name. After the Steelers and Bengals first matchup, Williams, like many of his Steelers brethren were upset about what they perceived as Burfict celebrating Le'Veon Bell's knee injury ( a clean hit by the way). Williams, like a number of the Steelers, decided to take to twitter to voice his displeasure. Unlike the other players, however, Williams tweet was regarding "painting that boi..." which in slang terms I am unfamiliar with, apparently means killing or shooting someone.

Yes, Vince Williams essentially made a death threat via social media...and the NFL did nothing about it. I get it, emotions run high after a game. But hell, emotions run high everywhere in life. In a day an age where every threat, no matter how unrealistic, is, and must be investigated, this threat went away with a simple click of a delete button. With that, the NFL (and the media) pretended as though it never happened. Heck, many in the media are acting like this is the first they ever heard of it. I said it at the time, how does the NFL not act on this?

Whitworth stated that it was this Tweet that lead to the pre-game skirmish and ultimately, a game that was full of extracurricular nonsense all day. And, to Whitworth's credit, he laid blame exactly where it belonged, on the NFL and Roger Goodell. You can say Whitworth's statement is ridiculous, and that is fine, you are entitled to your opinion, but, let me ask you this: how do you know whether this was or was not a serious death threat? Who makes that determination? What if it were Greg Hardy that sent that tweet? Would that make the reaction different? What if the Tweet were regarding violence toward women? Would that be unacceptable? Imagine if a student at your child's school Tweeted something similar. Would it have gone without investigation? Without punishment? And if so, how would you react to the non-action of said school and authorities? God forbid anything did happen, what would the reaction to the NFL's non-action be then? Today, no threat can be overlooked. Andrew Whitworth is right again. Thank you again Mr. Whitworth for being a voice of reason and common sense; we could use more like you in leadership roles.

Marcus Gilbert is an idiot.

Speaking of social media and its ability to expose stupidity, we learned that Marcus Gilbert is an idiot. Gilbert sent a Tweet saying, ""All I want for Christmas is the Bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke."

Apparently, Mr. Gilbert is unaware of his own history in the playoffs. Gilbert was drafted in 2011, the same year as Andy Dalton. Dalton and the Bengals have four playoff appearances during that span, losing all four. Mr. Gilbert and his Steelers have have only been to the playoffs twice in that span. In both games, the Steelers were the favorites. In both games, they lost. In one of those games (2011), Gilbert's amazing team lost to Tim Tebow. That is right, Tebow has one playoff win in his career, and it came in a 316 yard, 2 touchdown effort against you and your Steelers, Mr. Gilbert.

The Bengals are still in control of their own destiny to win the division and get a bye.

As much as Sunday felt like "Doom and Gloom," the Bengals still control their own destiny for not just the division, but the number two seed as well. Dalton or no Dalton, the Bengals don't have a single game left on their schedule that is not winnable and two of those games (San Francisco and Baltimore) are very winnable. As long as the Bengals continue to play defense and protect the ball, they shouldn't have a problem getting to the playoffs with a favorable seed.