The Cincinnati Bengals can’t get out of their own way.
For the second straight week, Cincinnati was clearly the better team vs an NFC East squad, but once again came away with a loss. This time, it wasn’t a frustrating tie, but a gut-wrenching loss that leaves Cincinnati at 3-5-1 and still having more questions than answers.
Here’s a look at our winners and losers from the Bengals’ 21-20 loss to the Giants on Monday night.
The Bengals are finally getting good production out of their return game, and Alex Erickson has been the driving force behind it. After his 65-yard kickoff return set up a touchdown vs Washington in Week 8, Erickson followed that up with an 84-yard return coming out of halftime in New York, which set up an easy touchdown.
That gave Cincinnati a 17-14 lead, and on the ensuing drive, Erickson returned a punt 18 yards that help set up a field goal. That’s 10 points that the rookie receiver was largely responsible for, and it was a big reason why the Bengals dominated the third quarter.
The Bengals have made it a point to get Tyler Eifert involved early and often over the past two games. Now that he’s healthy and getting a full workload, Eifert is making the kind of plays that Cincinnati has been missing on this offseason.
In this game, the Bengals got Eifert matched up with a linebacker on their first offensive possession before Dalton hit him for a career-high 71-yard catch down to the 8-yard line. That led to a touchdown, which was the ninth time Cincinnati has reached the end zone since he returned in Week 7. The Bengals would get one more touchdown in this game to make it 10 scores during that span.
That’s a far cry from what we saw over the first six weeks when the Bengals scored just 10 touchdowns during that span. That’s an average of 1.7 touchdowns per game, and while Eifert isn’t the only reason Cincinnati has improved offensively, he’s the biggest reason why.
The Bengals stressed they were willing to make big defensive changes coming out of the bye week to light a fire under this struggling unit. Perhaps the biggest move was signing Wallace Gilberry and then making Margus Hunt inactive for this game. It was a bit of a surprising move since Hunt was actually playing well as a backup, and he was far from the biggest issue that has plagued this defense.
Still, seeing him inactive for a guy who was just signed off the street last week, albeit a guy with experience in this defense, shows how low Hunt’s stock is right now. It’s also never good when you’re a healthy scratch in a contract year.
It was starting to look like Hunt may actually do enough to earn a decent contract this offseason, but that’s obviously hard to do when you can’t even get on the field for your current team.
Bengals’ Before-Halftime Offense (or lack thereof)
I’ll just let Paul Dehner take this one:
I will never understand how Marvin Lewis manages the drive before halftime.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) November 15, 2016
Either go for it or don't. This middle of the road stuff is asinine. Guess they are setting up the Hail Mary attempt again.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) November 15, 2016
But we could say all of this on a weekly basis as long as Marvin Lewis is the coach. He once again showed hesitancy and commitment to what he wanted to do at the end of the first half as the Bengals moved the ball, but ate up 1:08 seconds just to gain 30 yards and attempt a hail mary that was batted down.
Had the Bengals been more aggressive, they needed just one more big play to get into field-goal range, but Lewis’ hesitancy once again cost the Bengals a chance for points.
When teams find new and intuitive ways to lose seemingly every week, the head coach probably deserve to be on the hot seat. That’s mostly what Cincinnati has done this year, and it’s clear Lewis is losing his grip on this team. The Bengals just keep finding ways to miss on enough easy plays to lose these close games.
At what point does Mike Brown look past the seven winning season Lewis has brought to Cincinnati and realize this team isn’t moving forward?