The Cincinnati Bengals secured win No. 12 of a memorable 2015 season thanks to a 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17. With the regular season over and the playoffs up next, here's some of our biggest takeaways from this win, which gave Cincy a second-straight season sweep of Baltimore.
1. First-Half Hangover Not Costly
It was clear early on against Baltimore that Cincinnati was having a hangover from last Monday's debilitating loss in Denver, and that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. That game against the Broncos was easily one of, if not the biggest regular-season game for the Bengals, and it was safe to expect them to not be quite as sharp against a 5-10 Ravens team.
That led to Cincinnati trailing 9-7 at halftime before coming alive in the second half and running past Baltimore. The offense especially looked sharper in the second half thanks to cutting down on penalties and making enough big plays to get into scoring position. From here on out, the Bengals cannot afford to have the kind of first-half performance they had in this game if they hope to win even one game in the playoffs.
2. Jeremy Hill Breaks Out
This was exactly the kind of game Jeremy Hill needed to have before the playoffs. After a subpar regular season, Hill is going to need a big postseason if Cincinnati is going to make a playoff run, and he got off to a great start toward gearing up for that with his game against Baltimore.
Hill finished the game with 96 yards on just 16 carries (6.0 yards per rush) and had a 38-yard touchdown run that essentially was the game-winning score in a 24-16 win. That 38-yard scamper was Hill's longest run of the season after his previous high was just 17 against Cleveland.
While 96 yards doesn't seem big, it's huge against this Ravens defense. Coming into Week 17, Baltimore ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.9) while allowing just nine rushing scores this season. Only four players (Chris Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Lamar Miller) have rushed for more yards against Baltimore, and only Johnson (6.78) had a higher yards per carry average of those four players.
Again, this is the kind of confidence-boosting game Hill needed to have before the playoff start. With this unit taking a step back with Andy Dalton out, the ground game has to have more success for this team to win in the playoffs.
3. Defensive MVP Tez is Back
I'll never forget the feeling I had watching Geno Atkins go down with a torn ACL in 2013. To me, the season was effectively over at that point. At the time, Atkins had been by far the team's best player and someone who helped carry Cincinnati to the playoffs in the previous two seasons.
Without him, it seemed Cincy had little hope of doing anything relevant...that is until Vontaze Burfict upped his game and became the MVP of this defense and one of the best linebackers in football. The 2012 season was easily his best as a pro thanks in large part to injuries hindering him the following two seasons.
But since Burfict came off PUP midway through this season, he's slowly inched closer to his pre-injury form from 2013 in which he was the MVP of the Bengals' defense. That culminated against Baltimore with arguably his best performance this season as he racked up a season-high 12 tackles, two QB hits, two pass deflections and an interception.
The truth about this Bengals team is, without Andy Dalton, they're going to have to win ugly and with strong defensive performances. Low scores from the opposition are to be expected from any win Cincy will get going forward, and with Tez playing like a star along with the rest of this defense, winning by utilizing a strong defense in the playoffs is very possible.
4. Magic No. 12?
How big was the Bengals' win over the Ravens?
The victory over Baltimore tied a franchise record with 12 wins in a single season. In each of the past and only two seasons that Cincinnati won 12 games, they reached the Super Bowl (1981, 1988).
Adding to that, this is the most games the Bengals have won in the Marvin Lewis era after reaching the 11-win mark twice, but never managing to finish a season with only four losses. There's no doubt this is one of, if not the best Bengals team we've seen in the past two decades.
While this team's clear goal is a Super Bowl, the season won't feel validated without at least one postseason win.