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Brandon LaFell carried Bengals’ receiving corps in loss to Steelers

The veteran receiver had a solid day as the Bengals led for three quarters against the Steelers. But after the team put up zero points in the second half, it wasn’t enough to generate a win.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If there’s a word for the 2016 Bengals’ offense, “frustration” might be an apropos adjective. Given the offseason turnover of personnel at wide receiver, the injuries suffered at multiple positions, the underachievement across the roster and the inconsistent flashes of greatness, it’s been a year that has left Bengals fans exasperated.

One of those injuries is to star receiver, A.J. Green. The Pro Bowl pass-catcher looked to be having his best statistical season in his six-year career when he went down in Week 11 with a hamstring injury. An already somewhat-sputtering Cincinnati passing offense needed someone to step up in Green’s absence and this week, veteran free agent Brandon LaFell assumed that mantle.

On Sunday, LaFell had another solid game for the Bengals when they needed someone to step up. Green couldn’t go with his lingering hamstring issue and the Steelers did an admirable job of bottling up Tyler Eifert. And, while LaFell had his third game of 90 or more receiving yards as a Bengal, it wasn’t enough to get the Bengals a season-saving win.

“Personally it was productive, but we didn’t get the win,” LaFell said on Sunday afternoon via Bengals.com. “Since A.J. went out, I’ve put it on myself to lead all the guys because I feel I’m the next guy in line. Today was a big game and we needed to win.”

LaFell’s seven catches for 91 yards in Week 15 was a stark contrast to his three-reception, 39-yard output in Week 2 against Pittsburgh. Given the lack of other receiving options getting open and Andy Dalton having skittish feet against the Steelers’ pass rush, LaFell’s effort largely led to the Bengals holding a 20-9 halftime lead.

When he wasn’t catching the football he was forcing critical penalties, like the pass interference clip on Artie Burns below. The infraction led to a Dalton rushing touchdown.

Unfortunately, after coming out of halftime flat without the coaching tips needed to succeed and a continuously conservative approach on offense, Cincinnati didn’t score a single point in the second half. The Bengals scored on all four of their first possessions, but life for Dalton, LaFell and Co. became miserable after such a promising first two quarters.

“That’s a good football team. They play great football together, and that’s what they did,” LaFell said of the Bengals’ sworn enemies. “They came in after halftime and made some adjustments and they stopped us. Every time we needed to get a first down, we couldn’t pick it up. Those guys made a lot of plays and got the interception, which gave them a good boost of energy — gave them momentum — and they went down there and scored.”

Even though LaFell’s season could be labeled as feast-or-famine, he’s had a nice bounce-back year after struggling with the Patriots in 2015. The drops that marred his resume last year haven’t been prevalent and he’s been a solid veteran presence in the wake of the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. With two games left to play, LaFell has 51 receptions for 665 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bengals should add a young speedster to their wide receiver group next offseason, so the question is whether or not LaFell has played himself into a new contract with the club next year. Is he a viable long-term solution, or just a 2016 band-aid for a position group that needed a veteran bridge for the youth?

The LaFell signing has become a pretty decent one in an overall down season for the Bengals.