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Bengals at Giants: The Good, the bad and the ugly

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The Cincinnati Bengals lost a heartbreaker to the Giants on Monday night and there were a lot of elements put on tape that cause significant emotions.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals had every opportunity to get a win against the Giants on Monday night, but as has been the theme for 2016, they let one go right through their hands. Unfortunately, as the losses pile up they become more frustrating. Such was the case with the loss we witnessed in New York, which was a primetime affair that ended with a one-point margin of victory.

Here are the best and worst from the Bengals in their 21-20 loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football.

The Good:

Tyler Eifert: Though he struggled on a couple of blocks on Monday night, it isn’t in that aspect that the Bengals value him. After falling down 7-0 on the Giants’ opening drive, Cincinnati was ready to answer back. Quarterback Andy Dalton sailed a beauty of a pass to Eifert who had beat a linebacker and galloped 71 yards with the football. He grabbed another 20-yard reception late in the game and finished with three catches for 96 yards.

Vontaze Burfict: Monday night was vintage No. 55. He was flying around everywhere, making big tackles and breaking up the occasional pass. Though he let up a touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard, but it seemed to be more of a scheme issue. Burfict finished with 11 tackles (9 solo), 1 quarterback hit, 2 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble; though, it went out of bounds.

Alex Erickson: The undrafted rookie and preseason MVP finally seems to be hitting his NFL stride. After popping a 65-yard kickoff return against the Redskins, he had another huge 84-yard kickoff return on Monday night, which led to a go-ahead touchdown by Jeremy Hill to open the third quarter. He also had a nifty 18-yard punt return to give the Bengals good field position, in which they capitalized with a field goal.

Mike Nugent: It’s been an awful couple of weeks for Nugent, who went 1-for-4 on field goal attempts and 3-for-4 in extra point tries in the previous two contests. The team brought in other kickers for workouts during the bye and the message seemed to have been received by the Bengals’ veteran kicker. He made all attempts on the night (two field goals, two extra points), and while it may seem like a small victory, it was significant in a one-point game.

Geno Atkins: The Pro Bowl defensive tackle has quietly had another solid season, but he really showed up in a big way on Monday night. Atkins harassed Eli Manning regularly, sacking him once and pressuring him on other occasions. After another uninspired effort from the rest of his line mates, Atkins once again had to largely carry the Bengals defense.

A.J. Green: It wasn’t an all-star night for the perennial Pro Bowl receiver, but it was one filled with a lot of “dirty work”. Most of his catches came in contested coverage and/or across the middle, hence why his seven catches only went for 68 yards, but it furthered his reputation for being an all-around receiving threat. He also grabbed his fourth touchdown of the season on the Bengals’ opening drive.

The Bad:

Inconsistent play calls in the run game: After trampling the Browns and Redskins for 423 total rushing yards in Weeks 7 and 8, the Bengals only ran the football six times in the first half on Monday night. Sure, the Giants defense is better at defending the run than Washington and Cleveland, but the Bengals didn’t really give it too much of a fair shot early in the game. Giovani Bernard had just seven carries on the evening, while Hill had 15, both yielding mixed results.

Tyler Boyd and the game of inches: The rookie receiver had an opportunity to make two huge plays on Monday, but slivers of time and space prevented it. In the first quarter, the Bengals were moving a little bit, but faced a 3rd-and-12. Dalton found Boyd across the middle and he was oh-so-close to getting a huge first down. Then, in the third quarter, the Bengals had an opportunity to take a commanding lead. Dalton once again found Boyd across the middle and it appeared he had his first NFL touchdown, but a late bobble when hitting the ground made it incomplete. Growing pains, I guess?

Tight ends and backs in the passing game: In what’s becoming a troubling trend in 2016, the Bengals’ defense hasn’t been able to re-capture Mike Zimmer’s ability to take out ancillary weapons in a passing offense. New York tight ends Will Tye and Jerell Adams combined for eight catches, 71 yards and a touchdown, while Rashad Jennings added another 23 through the air.

The Ugly:

Wasted opportunities: Sure, the defense had its warts on the night, but they did gather two interceptions, one being returned to Giants’ 7-yard line. The Bengals scored just three points off of the two Manning interceptions, and only scored three more after Erickson’s nice punt return gave them pretty good field position. That’s unacceptable.

Third down conversions: The Bengals utterly failed on the most critical down in the game, to the tune of an 18% conversion rate (2-for-11). Boyd’s big drop for a would-be touchdown didn’t help, but the team kept finding itself in long-yardage situations, which also shows failures in early downs, be it from lack of execution or penalties.

The offensive line: Sensing a theme, yet? Another week and another poor performance from the big guys up front. The Giants amassed three sacks on Dalton, while the pocket collapsed on him numerous other times. No one up front was immune to issues, as even Andrew Whitworth was pegged with a critical holding call in the second half. There are currently among the worst in the league in sacks given up after being one of the best units in the category over the past two seasons.

Losing in the clutch situations: There are two sides of an argument when talking about “the clutch gene”. One is that it’s a trait that is passed down from the coaching staff to their players, and the other is that it’s an innate thing that certain players just possess, regardless of their staff. Either way, the Bengals didn’t come through in big situations on Monday night. Whether it was Boyd’s drop, the aforementioned lack of taking advantage of turnovers, or the defense crumbling at the end of the game when the team needed the ball back, the collapse was complete.

Coaching: The Bengals had many opportunities to win this football game—even by a relatively big margin. But, once again, the national spotlight was too big for some of the players, as well as the coaches. We’ve already talked quite a bit about the coaching issues on Monday night, but as a recap, Marvin Lewis and his staff were indecisive (see challenge and play-calling right before the half), and also seem unwilling to make necessary personnel changes. All of the aforementioned aspects in “the bad” and “the ugly” come on the heels of a two-week preparation period by this staff.