As a football team, it’s hard playing two different opponents at the same time.
Aside from taking on the New England Patriots at Foxboro on Sunday, Marvin Lewis’ Bengals also battled the referees once again. One could make the argument that the calls made against Cincinnati are a residual effect of what transpired against the Steelers last January or simply bad luck, but the margin for error with the Bengals is apparently paper-thin in 2016.
Complaints were made in previous weeks with the guys in zebra stripes, and as losses mount, questionable calls continue to frustrate the team and the fan base. Let’s not forget that the Bengals simply didn’t make enough plays to beat the Patriots this week, but the staggering amount of ticky-tack penalties accrued on behalf of the Bengals—particularly on third down—told a major part of the story in Week 6.
This game could be coined as one where the Bengals couldn’t capitalize on opportunities, like being stifled on a critical fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, as well as one where they couldn’t stop the Patriots’ tight ends. However, as the chippy nature of both teams surfaced in the fourth quarter, a blatant disadvantage was becoming more and more obvious.
Nobody likes to pin a loss on officiating, and a lethal combination of a difficult start to the schedule and missed opportunities at clutch moments have helped lead to a 2-4 record for Cincinnati. However, if you’ve watched the Bengals’ first six games closely, it’s nearly impossible to note the negative impact of the officiating.
Dre Kirkpatrick’s Illegal Contact in the second quarter:
After the Bengals took a 7-3 lead, Tom Brady and his offense took the field. Thanks to a Vontaze Burfict sack, New England ended up facing a 3rd-and-18. Brady sailed an incompletion to Chris Hogan down the right sideline, who was covered by Kirkpatrick.
There was jostling between Hogan and Kirkpatrick, which some could consider as nothing out of the ordinary, but the Bengals’ defensive back was flagged for illegal contact. Sure, it could or could not have been called, but the home team took advantage and went up 10-7 right before the half.
Dre Kirkpatrick on the illegal contact penalty that gave Patriots a first down on third and long pic.twitter.com/NrhmJVBoZT— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) October 16, 2016
Andy Dalton gets horse-collared on the safety:
When things began to unravel, the Bengals and Dalton let up an inexplicable safety. On the tackle by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who had an excellent game by his own right, he grabbed the Cincinnati quarterback’s collar when bringing him down for two points.
Now, technically, a rule states that a quarterback can be subject to tackles like the one Hightower made when scrambling out of the pocket, but it seems like a contradictory issue. Not only is the league taking a stance on protecting its players, but they are uber-cautionary with the quarterbacks.
It was technically a legal tackle, but as most watched it, they wondered why it wasn't called upon replay; it could have gone either way.
A.J. Green held on screen pass:
One of the rules that undoubtedly frustrates offensive players is the amount of contact that is allowed within five yards. For all of the good things A.J. Green does for the Bengals, defensive backs attempt to get in his grill at the line of scrimmage.
In the third quarter, Dalton attempted a safe screen pass to Green, who was in tight coverage. Cornerback Logan Ryan read the play well, but he appeared to hold Green as he was trying to make the catch. The only explanation for a no-call is the “inside the five-yard rule”, though Cincy Jungle contributor Cody Tewmey did research and refuted that notion. Have a look for yourself.
Is this pass interference/holding? pic.twitter.com/zlJ1JSBt4i— Joe (@JoeGoodberry) October 16, 2016
Cedric Ogbuehi’s past and current issues haunting him:
A major reason the Patriots have the opportunity to get a safety was because of a holding penalty called on the Bengals’ starting right tackle. Obviously, the first-year starting tackle has had major issues throughout the year, so we’re at the point where we’re looking for egregious errors on his part, as were the coaches.
In the third quarter, the Bengals were nursing a lead. Ogbuehi let up a pressure, yet Dalton scrambled and hit Green for what would have been a first down. However, in the process of recovering from getting beat, Ogbuehi was called for holding and New England got two points on the very next play.
However, if you look at the play, Ogbuehi actually made a decent late block with minimal grabbing. It was probably the least egregious call by the referees, but his being beat and the flooring of the defender forced the officials’ hands. He was subsequently pulled from the game after six weeks of poor play.
Grab, grab, grab, but no flags:
Bill Belichick loves corners who play physical ball, and they deserve credit as most throws Dalton made on the day were in contested coverage. Aside from the aforementioned screen pass to Green, two other major plays should have had flags thrown.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the Bengals trailing 25-17, Cincinnati was in the red zone. Dalton threw a fade to Green on third down and it ended up being incomplete, leading to Cincinnati having to settle for a field goal. However, when you review it, Green’s arm was being held both before and during the attempted reception.
@JoeGoodberry did he get AJ's digits? pic.twitter.com/ExxaPiRReY— Mike Whalen (@MWWhalen) October 16, 2016
Later, with about six minutes to play, Dalton tried to hit Brandon LaFell down the sideline. Again, one could deem it solid, contested coverage, but when the replay ensued, LaFell’s arm was grabbed by the defender. It was another non-call when the Bengals were in catch-up mode.
The jawing late in the game:
For better or worse, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has a reputation. He and fellow hothead Adam Jones largely held their emotions in check, but another impending loss, mouthiness by Patriots players, and a glut of missed calls by the referees began to build on Cincinnati’s defense.
Exchanges between the Bengals and Patriots began to build as the game wore on, with New England’s stars giving lip to Cincinnati’s defenders. On the Bengals side, Burfict, Jones, Shawn Williams and Pat Sims were involved, while Rob Gronkowski, LeGarrette Blount and others on the Patriots’ squad goaded the group.
Whether you call it “coy” or “dirty”, Burfict used his reputation and common tactics to try and gain Cincinnati a late advantage. In one instance, Gronk gloated while leaning over Kirkpatrick after a catch and Burfict came to his teammates’ defense. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead called it a “cheap shot”, but Burfict’s actions earned a flag in the Bengals’ favor.
Good cheap shot/scuffle breakdown of Vontaze Burfict vs Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennetthttps://t.co/GJM4kZcae6pic.twitter.com/wKD99Tja73— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) October 16, 2016
To add to the drama, Williams made a tackle on Blount and the big New England running back put his hand inside the face mask of the Cincinnati safety after the play. The officiating crew threw a flag, but inexplicably picked it up, only to tag the Bengals with a facemask penalty on Kirkpatrick two plays later. During that play, Julian Edelman was simultaneously face masking Kirkpatrick, making for another hard-to-understand call. Blount, if you remember, is the type of guy who punched a fan in the stands while at the University of Oregon.
Even this Patriots reporter (and fan) admitted it.
It looked like though both Kirkpatrick & Edelman should've gotten face mask calls against each other. https://t.co/CyAo89GX0h— Doug Moore (@DMooreNFL) October 16, 2016
As Blount scored a rushing touchdown with about a minute left, Gronkowski was seen doing a jig after all of the jawing had ensued. Sims, both not liking the way he was blocked (his helmet was taken off) and Gronk’s actions, got aggressive after the play. Blount was penalized, but at that point, it seemed like too little, too late.
Good teams find a way to overcome bad calls and get a win. The Patriots, after falling behind the Bengals briefly, found a way to claw back and get a convincing win. The officials didn’t dictate the outcome of the game, but they didn’t make life easy for the Bengals in a contest that was very difficult going into Foxborough.
Still, it’s a troubling trend that has ensued with Cincinnati in their first six games this year. Is it a case of a truly undisciplined team, or are they getting a raw deal after how the 2015 season ended in the Wild Card round?
Regardless, if it continues, the team will need to play near-perfect football to overcome some of the preconceived notions that Dean Blandino’s crews seems to be employing.