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National media buries Bengals’ season after Week 12 loss in Baltimore

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The Bengals let their final realistic shot at winning a game to get back into the playoff picture slip out of their grasp this week and it invited a wave of criticism from the national media.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Go ahead and stick a fork in the Bengals, because their matchup with the Ravens on Sunday was the team’s last chance to stay away from the realm of ridiculous hypothetical playoff scenarios. Cincinnati is now two and a half games behind both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers with a head-to-head loss against each team and only five games left in the season to play.

To get back on top in the division, the Bengals would need to win their next three games while the Steelers and Ravens lose their next three. The Ravens and Steelers going on losing streaks of that caliber is somewhat plausible with the Ravens facing the Dolphins, Patriots, and Eagles while the Steelers are set to go up against the Giants, Bills, and Bengals.

But, the Bengals’ upcoming games are against the Eagles, Browns, and Steelers and no game moving forward will be easy with a depleted offense and a defense that’s far inferior to last year’s unit. Things looked suspect enough when A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard were available. But, now, as explained by Katherine Terrell of ESPN, we know exactly how bad life without those two is going to be.

The Bengals' offense showed what life would be like without A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard on Sunday in Baltimore, and it wasn't pretty. Cincinnati just doesn't seem to have an answer for its ailing offense. To get to the playoffs, the Bengals would not only have to win out but would also need the Steelers and Ravens to both stumble down the stretch.

Even with Green and Bernard, the Bengals’ offense was struggling. So, we know that any remaining sliver of hope for the team is stretched extremely thin without those key players. Maybe it’s an issue with the new offensive coordinator, maybe it’s an issue with so many new players at wide receiver. It’s probably an issue with how poor the play at right tackle has been lately, but we know it’s an issue that is going to keep the Bengals from any chance at being relevant going forward.

Technically, assuming the Steelers and Ravens were to both completely tank for the rest of the season, the Bengals would only need to win three of their next five games to win the division.

But, whether or not they finish strong, it’s hard to see the Ravens and Steelers both losing all of their remaining games. That’s why Fox Sports know the Bengals need to win all of their remaining games, and even that may not be enough.

Baltimore (6-5) climbed back into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North with five games to go.

''We have to win every game, we feel, this last stretch,'' Weddle said.

The Bengals (3-7-1) feel the same way. The difference is, that might not be good enough to get them into the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.

''We have been able to control it ourselves. Now we need help,'' coach Marvin Lewis said.

After spending five straight Decembers fighting for playoff position, Cincinnati is now in a situation where one more loss may end its postseason hopes.

Interestingly, poor showings from both the Ravens and Bengals this week on both sides of the ball allowed special teams to be highlighted. Unfortunately for the Bengals, despite the return of special teams captain Cedric Peerman from injured reserve, the Ravens’ special teams unit vastly outperformed the Bengals’ unit. You could argue, like Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports did, that the play from each side’s special teams unit is what, ultimately, decided the game.

The Ravens basically won the game on special teams Sunday, with four more field goals — three from 50-plus yards— from 2016 team MVP Justin Tucker.

The guy who once — indirectly — called out Harbaugh for not knowing the rulebook? That would be Tom Brady. During the 2014 divisional playoff game between the Ravens and New England Patriots, Brady ran a few plays that had Harbaugh apoplectic. The Patriots appeared to have an illegal formation with only four offensive linemen on the line, but the rules at the time allowed it the way the Patriots ran the play (the rules have since been changed).

After Harbaugh complained to the referees during that game and then later to the media, Brady fired back: “Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out.”

Well, if Harbaugh didn’t know the rulebook then, he appears to now.

On top of the outstanding performance by Tucker, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent continued his streak of futility by missing an extra point attempt late in the third quarter after the Bengals’ only touchdown. Most NFL kickers could not hit the 57 yard field goal that Tucker hit near the end of the first half, but most NFL kickers also can’t miss three extra points in a row (two in Week 11, one in Week 12). That’s a challenge.

The MMQB went as far as to name Nugent the Goat of the Week.

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Mike Nugent, kicker, Cincinnati. In a 16-12 loss to Buffalo last week, Nugent missed his only two extra-point tries. On the Bengals’ first touchdown of the day at Baltimore on Sunday, with Baltimore up 16-9, Nugent went wide right. Three extra-point misses in a row. Three 33-yard kicks in a row, missed. It’s not about the fact that Nugent missed a game-winner or game-decider either week. It’s just missing three straight PATs. Inexcusable.

Peter King also named Tucker the Special Teams Player of the Week.

It just goes to show you how important each team’s kicker was to the outcome of this game. But, Nugent’s impact was negative while Tucker’s was overwhelmingly positive.

The difference (well, one of many differences) between Nugent and Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line, is, Shaq contributed to his teams in so many other ways that it was OK that he was about as dreadful as you can get at the charity stripe. Tucker and Nugent, on the other hand, have one job. One of those two guys knows how to make a positive impact when given the opportunity, the other doesn’t.

The one glimmer of continually fading hope is the fact that everyone else in the AFC North is having a bad season as well. The Browns, notably, might end up as the second 0-16 team ever, while the Ravens and Steelers keeping trying to find new and creative ways to lose games and keep (most of) the rest of the division still in the hunt.

Social media reactions were pretty dismal regarding the Bengals after the game, particularly on Twitter: