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Digesting the worst Sunday for the 3-6-1 Bengals in recent history

It probably would have been better if the Bengals roster collectively slept through their alarms and didn’t show up to play on Sunday against the Bills.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What’s a team to do when its best player goes down on the opening drive with an injury? The Bengals had to figure that out and throw away a good chunk of their game plan when A.J. Green experienced a hamstring injury three plays into the Bengals’ Week 11 game against the Bills. That injury now threatens to be season-ending.

Matters seemed to be getting even worse when Domata Peko and Vontaze Burfict collided while trying to make a tackle on the ensuing defensive drive. Burfict immediately went down on all fours in pain and left the game. The Bengals called it a neck injury.

At that point, things seemed bleak. And that’s putting it lightly.

But, Burfict did return, right before Green was ruled out for the duration of the game.

Mike Nugent

The Bengals love continuity. We’ve seen it with Marvin Lewis and with players who should be cut but stick around undeservingly. But how much more of Mike Nugent can the Bengals stand to watch? He has now missed three extra points in the last three games. How many missed opportunities is too many for this Bengals team led by Marvin Lewis?

The Bengals offense was terrible in the second half of Sunday’s game, and the defense stood strong for much of the game, but had their faulty moments, too. Putting that aside, when your job is to kick the football between the uprights, and you fail to do that one thing on such a consistent basis, do you really deserve to have a job?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s not blame the loss on Nugent. Football is a team game, and a large number of players on the Bengals’ roster played a role in the loss. But, let’s just consider that Nugent has now made 19/22 extra points this season and 76.2 percent of his field goals. He attempted no field goals on Sunday in the Bengals' loss to the Bills. Coming into Week 11, Nugent was ranked 25th in the league in regards to percent of kicks made. His long of the year was from 47 yards out. There are only five teams in the NFL who haven't had their kicker score a field goal from further out than 47 yards this year.

The Bengals could have won Sunday’s game, even without Green. But instead, they self destructed with some help from their kicker who kicked away two points that could have made a difference.

A recurring theme for the Bengals this season has been making it seem like they’re trying to give away games. That was true on Sunday.

Andy Dalton

Dalton started out the year expertly, looking like a top-caliber quarterback, even in Bengals losses. Before the bye week, Dalton had just three interceptions and 9 passing touchdowns. In the two weeks since the bye, he has three interceptions, two of which came on Sunday, his only game of the year with multiple picks. And, he’s only thrown 1 touchdown in each of the last two games. Dalton also hasn't had a game with a quarterback rating greater than 82 since Week 7, when he had his best rating of the year, against the Browns, of 128.3.

What has changed? The offensive line has been poor in their protection of Dalton, but that’s not a new issue since the bye week. Dalton’s play has regressed in the past three weeks, and it’s doing the Bengals no favors. Now with Green out indefinitely and Giovani Bernard done for the season, Dalton must get his play back to the level we’ve grown used to since the start of the 2015 season.

Vontaze Burfict

One of the bright spots for the Bengals during the past two weeks has been the play of Burfict, which has improved dramatically since he returned in Week 4 from suspension and looks to be back to top form. Burfict was flying all over the field on Sunday and led the team with 13 tackles and 1 sack. Many of his tackles were key plays that helped to keep the Bengals in the game until the clock hit all zeros.

Defensive line

Geno Atkins is still a top defensive tackle, but, it hasn't been showing in the box score as of late. On Sunday, he had just one tackle and his name was hardly uttered during the broadcast. That's not a good sign for the big-time playmaker who started the year with a standout preseason but has not been making as big of an impact as the Bengals expect him to make. Likewise, Carlos Dunlap has not been overly effective in recent weeks. Dunlap tallied a half sack on Sunday (shared with Michael Johnson, in coverage), which was his first sack since Week 7. He also had just 3 tackles on Sunday. A big part of why the Bengals were so good in 2015 was because of their defensive line. It's now safe to say a big reason why the Bengals are not good in 2016 is because of their defensive line. When the line applies pressure, it helps the rest of the defense, but when they can't get to the quarterback, it negatively impacts every other position group on defense.

Coming into Sunday, the Bengals ranked 23rd in sacks with 17 on the season. They notched two more on Sunday, which is about the average number of sacks a team generates in an NFL game.

What’s next?

At this point, we can face the fact that the Bengals are not heading to the playoffs with a 3-6-1 record, Green injured (and maybe done for the season), Bernard injured and done for the season, Dre Kirkpatrick injured, Shawn Williams injured, Clark Harris injured, and Nugent being as unreliable as he is. And of course, there’s the coaching issues and Marvin Lewis’ inability to get his team in the right mindset to battle adversity.

Young players must now get chances to play. There’s no better time to see what the Bengals have in their youth than when there’s nothing to lose. And right now, there’s nothing to lose.

Darqueze Dennard actually had a good game on Sunday. Let’s see more of him, let’s see William Jackson III activated from Injured Reserve. And, while we’re at it, let’s also see third round rookie cornerback KeiVarae Russell who the Bengals claimed off waivers back in September in on the action. He’s been inactive every week of the season. I’d also like to see defensive tackle Deshawn Williams play. Could he really be worse than Peko? I don’t think so. Do you?

And rookies Nick Vigil, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core could all use some additional playing time, too. Why not?

The Bengals’ focus going forward should be on staying healthy and seeing what their young players can provide for the future. The changes within this organization might as well start now.

What do you think?