One good half and one terrible half.
That about sums up the Bengals this season. They can put together two or sometimes even three good quarters, but this is a four-quarter league, and this is a 5-8-1 team.
Here are the winners and losers from the Bengals’ 24-20 loss to the Steelers.
It was clear early and often that Brandon LaFell was a big part of the offensive game plan. The veteran receiver was arguably the best player in the game for the first half, as his six catches for 77 yards helped the Bengals go up 20-9 into halftime.
LaFell cooled off in the second half, but just seeing him be a big part of the offense is a great news for him after he’d been a ghost for much of the past two months.
It’s early in Alex Erickson's young NFL career, but he’s already looking like one of the best returners the franchise has ever had. He already ranks third in team history in kickoff return average, and he only added to it with a big day vs Pittsburgh.
It was highlighted by a 72-yard return in the first half that led to a Bengals field goal on a day when both offenses struggling mightily to reach the end zone. As little as Erickson has done catching passes, he’s already carving out a nice NFL future with his return ability.
Even though Pat Sims is a backup, the Bengals have been giving the veteran tackle plenty of snaps this season, though he’s not always made the most of them. He’s a good run-stuffer, but that hasn’t shown as much recently while the Bengals have been gashed up the middle far too often this season.
But against the Steelers, Sims showed out and helped the Bengals contain Le’Veon Bell, who had just 65 rushing yards through the first three quarters. Sims was a big reason for that, and he even had a couple of stuffs right at the line of scrimmage.
Sims actually had one of his best games of 2015 vs the Steelers in the Wild Card game. He clearly dislikes the Steelers as much as the Bengals and their fans do.
The Bengals were clearly the better team in the first half, but that changed coming out of the break as Pittsburgh dominated both sides of the ball. All of the adjustments Pittsburgh made, Cincinnati seemingly had no answer for.
Sure, the Steelers may a better team, but there’s no excuse for a team to struggle that badly at home in the second half with a 20-9 lead. To have less than 40 total offensive yards in the second half while allowing Pittsburgh to keep going right down the field is inexcusable.
Points vs Yards
For much of this season, the Bengals have had a top-10 offense in terms of total yards. However, that’s been negated more often than not due to a bottom-10 scoring offense. This team has struggled to punch it into the end zone all year, regardless of A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert being in the lineup.
There’s no excuse for this offense to be so bad at putting points on the board when they can move the ball as well as they do. This could have easily been a 24-9 or 28-9 halftime lead if the Bengals just got five more yards on two separate occasions in which they got to the 5-yard line, but settled for field goals.
Ken Zampese has shown a lot of promise as a play-caller, but the first-time offensive coordinator has a lot to work on this offseason to get more points on the board.
After losing in about as gut-wrenching fashion as possible in the Wild Card game, the Bengals did everything they could to revive that awful feeling for themselves and their fans.
This was just another punch-in-the-gut loss that feels all too familiar to Bengals fans, and it will be something we continue to experience as long as Marvin Lewis is in Cincinnati. The second-half collapse has become a theme for Lewis, whose teams continue to break down in the biggest moments of the biggest games. See: four defensive penalties on four consecutive plays.