It was Denver who came out with a hard-fought win in overtime, securing a playoff berth and taking hold of the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Here are four of our biggest takeaways from the Bengals' fourth loss of the 2015 NFL season.
1. That First Drive was Awesome
When the Bengals ended up with the game's opening possession, I thought that would be a bad way to start this game. AJ McCarron and the offense didn't seem like they'd have much success against the Broncos' defense, especially early on as Cincy got adjusted,
Screw that. They took the ball and went right at Denver. McCarron fired several deep passes as Hue Jackson was not holding back, despite playing with far less than a stacked deck. The ground game got some nice gains, but it was McCarron's throws and receivers' tough grabs that made this a signature drive.
Nice grab by Marvin Jones. https://t.co/BuyxrPVO1k— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2015
Brilliant catch and throw from McCarron to Green. https://t.co/REzK6nX1mf— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2015
It was a work of art as the Bengals marched right down the field against the league's best defense as though Dalton and Eifert had never left.
2. McCarron Poised and Confident
Poise and confidence seem like traits any quarterback lucky enough to play in the NFL should have, but that's simply not the case, especially when it comes to backups. Rarely do you see even good teams have backups who come in and play with the confidence and poise of an elite passer, but AJ McCarron did just that.
Now we're still a LONG way from ever saying McCarron is even a good quarterback in this league, but there's no doubt he plays with the kind of poise of a starter. Time after time in this game, McCarron made big plays in critical situations to keep the Bengals' offense moving, including this dime he dropped into A.J. Green on a 3rd-and-goal play:
TOUCHDOWN!!!! McCarron to Green. Amazing. https://t.co/VAttzX5V3i— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 29, 2015
McCarron did everything you could ask of a backup and then some. He did miss some throws that could have put this game away before overtime, but for the most part, he was a big reason why the Bengals were in this game until the very end, even if he fumbled the game away in overtime.
3. Second Half/OT Was Painful
Though they don't lose often these days, the Bengals are good at finding ways to lose games in heart-breaking fashion, but that doesn't make losing any easier to stomach.
Enter Week 16 in Denver. Holding a 14-0 lead and all of the momentum with a great defense going against a struggling Denver offense, this was a game Cincinnati had no business losing. If they were going to lose, it seemed like it would have been on the offense turning the ball over and giving the Broncos easy points.
And while the offense was slowed in the second half, it was the defense that blew easy play after easy play and allowed Denver to rally for the win. Missed tackles, blown coverages and egregiously bad penalties were all plentiful.
These facets plagued the Bengals' defense in the second half, and it ultimately led to their demise. The only loss in recent memory close to it was actually the Bengals' loss in Week 11 at Arizona. The difference is the Cardinals' offense is vastly superior to what the Broncos have, and they should not have had this much success against the Bengals' defense.
4. The Good News...
There was actually a lot of good to come out of this game. The biggest positive was that Cincinnati went toe-to-toe with Denver, but may have even been the better team. It's hard to see that changing much between now and a possible rematch in the Divisional Round, though Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning may be the quarterbacks playing for their respective teams that weekend, so actually, a lot may change.
Because the Bengals lost, they're currently on pace to be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and host the New York Jets in the Wild Card round. While it will be tough, that's a game the Bengals should win, with or without Andy Dalton.
That would then lead to another trip to Denver in the Divisional Round to face the No. 2 seed Broncos. Though, if the Broncos lose next week to the Chargers, that changes things up as well.
After Monday night's game, it appears the Bengals could beat the Broncos if given another opportunity, even if they didn't pull it off this time. And if that opportunity comes, hopefully the Bengals will have Dalton and Tyler Eifert back in the lineup to secure a Bengals win.