The Bengals finally put together back-to-back wins for the first time in the 2016 NFL season. Unfortunately, the Bengals are so far behind in the race for the AFC North, at this point, it would take nothing short of a miracle for Cincinnati to make the playoffs. Therefore, the win did nothing more than potentially give Bengals fans more reason to hope that next year will be better.
At 5-7-1, with three games left to play, the Bengals can still avoid a losing season if they win out. But, that could be a tall order for a Bengals team that has only managed to beat the 4-9 Jets, the 8-5 Dolphins (who looked awful at the time), the 5-8 Eagles, and the 0-13 Browns twice. But, the Bengals flashed brilliance against the Browns, as explained by Zac Jackson of Pro Football Talk, showing that they’re still a competitive NFL team that could beat the Steelers, Texans, and Ravens in the coming weeks.
The Bengals dominated early and simply did enough to hold on late, sending the hapless Browns to another loss Sunday.
The final was 23-10 after the Bengals led 20-0 at halftime. Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes to Tyler Eifert, and Jeremy Hill ran for 111 yards and a touchdown.
The Bengals won for a second consecutive week to improve to 5-7-1 and keep their faint playoff hopes alive. The Browns fall to 0-13.
Still, it wasn’t a perfect game by any means. The Bengals completely shut the Browns out through the first half while putting up 20 points. It looked like it was going to be another 20+ point blowout performance by the Bengals, the likes of which have become common against the Browns in recent years. But, Andy Dalton was sacked four times and the defense relaxed in the second half, allowing the Browns to nearly climb back into the game. The offense was worthless in the third quarter and the fourth quarter saw the addition of only three points to the scoreboard. The Bengals have flashed their talent over the last two weeks, but, as explained by Katherine Terrell of ESPN, there are still some huge issues that need to be fixed if next year is going to be much better.
It’s no surprise that the Bengals’ two best games of the season have come against the Browns, who haven’t been able to do anything right. The Bengals put up more than 500 yards of offense against Cleveland in their last meeting on Oct. 23, a win that would turn out to be the Bengals' last for more than a month.
The Bengals now have their first winning streak of the season, courtesy of the Eagles and Browns. But are they playing good football or just beating up on struggling teams?
The answer is probably a little bit of both. The defense has recovered from its midseason slump and has done enough to win several games while the offense was stagnant. They shut out the Browns in the first half, holding them to 41 yards. It was the same story against the Eagles, when they picked off rookie Carson Wentz three times.
But ultimately, the same problems that plagued the Bengals at the start of the season continued on Sunday, even against an inferior opponent.
Late-season games like this one, between two teams that aren’t going to the playoffs, are generally seen as glorified exhibition games that shouldn’t be stirring up the emotions of either side. But, that tends to not be the case between rivals like the Bengals and Browns. In addition to being in the same division and sharing a contentious history, their close geographic proximity makes it easy for animosity to brew and trash talk to commence like what happened between Bengals cornerback Adam Jones and former Ohio State quarterback (and briefly Bengals quarterback) and current Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.
The feud didn’t end up amounting to much as Pryor was relatively silent during the game. But, as narrated by Adam Wells of Bleacher Report, it was enough to add a bit of flavor to this otherwise bland matchup between two sub .500 teams late in the season.
He picked an opportune time to talk trash against Cleveland's wideout, who had just one catch for three yards in the defeat.
This isn't a new feud between Jones and Pryor, as Terrell noted it may have started last year when Pryor reportedly Bengals told defensive coordinator Paul Guenther that Jones should get cut for his play.
Leading up to Sunday's matchup, Jones tried to keep his problem with Pryor in check until finally letting his guard down.
Despite the bad blood and the desperation of both teams to prove their worth, the game played out without much of a threat from the Browns. This game was the Browns’ best remaining chance to avoid an 0-16 finish, and many thought the winless team would come out strong because of the added motivated when going up against the rival Bengals, who are also struggling this season. The Browns were also coming off their bye week, but, all of that didn’t prove enough for Cleveland to grab a win.
Save for a bit of a rally at the end of the third quarter, there wasn’t any point in the game where it felt like the Browns had a chance. Hopefully the Bengals can use that confidence to end the season on a good note with their remaining three games, building some confidence and momentum for the offseason.