For much of the first half of the Bengals preseason opener on Friday night, the Bengals' offense was far superior to that of the Minnesota Vikings. They topped Minnesota in total yards 193-155, number of plays 39-20, rushing yards 45-23 and passing yards 148-132. They also had the ball for the majority of the half, having a time of possession of 18:64, as opposed to the Vikings' 11:16. Yet, at the end of the half Cincinnati trailed 10-7, a sign that the Bengals were frustratingly unable to finish drives that they seemed to be entirely in control of.
There was of course the failed 48-yard field goal attempt by Mike Nugent after an incomplete pass attempt from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. Again, this was a drive that started off well; they made it 43 yards on 9 plays with a good showing from Dalton as he put up 32 passing yards. Unfortunately it started a trend by this Bengals team in the first half, as it sputtered off with a 2-yard loss by Giovani Bernard, a 9-yard reception by Green that wasn't enough, and the aforementioned incompletion.
Following that missed field goal came AJ McCarron's first possession, which ended up being the most frustrating possession of the game due to the way it ended. Cincinnati started with the ball on their own 7 yard line, and McCarron led them all the way to the Minnesota 3. The drive went 89 yards, took 12:24, lasted 22 plays, and resulted in 0 points after a failed 4th down conversion. On that drive, the offense went 6/7 on third down conversions, and it seemed as though they could do no wrong until they got down inside the 10. Obviously, failing to get just 1-yard on the failed 4th down conversion to end that drive is bad, but another failed play came earlier in that set of downs when Cincinnati lost a couple yards on 1st down. On the play, McCarron hands off to Cedric Peerman, and Peerman looks to go straight up the middle but can't even get back to the line, as Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson blows right past Kevin Zeitler who is moving up into the secondary, and Cedric Ogbuehi can't shift left in time, allowing Johnson to take Peerman down for a loss of two yards.
Prior to this failed run, the Bengals had been relying heavily on short and quick passes. McCarron completed six short passes in that drive, including back-to-back passes to Peerman following that play. That loss of yards put pressure on Peerman to get yards after the catch on those two receptions, and he couldn't get enough as Minnesota's coverage didn't allow much extra. Going back to the 4th down play, Peerman was called on for the 4th straight play and couldn't push forward for the one-yard needed to set them up with 1st and goal. With the success that McCarron had all night on quick passes, a goal-to-go situation likely would've meant six points. This failed drive contributed to their poor 33% red zone efficiency.
Marvin Lewis noted in his postgame comments that the failed 4th down conversion was one of the critical moments of the game, saying "we've got to convert that fourth-and-one."
This was the most notable failed drive of the game for Cincinnati due to the fact that it was such a successful drive up until the end, but unfortunately it wasn't the only time that Cincinnati struggled to finish the drive and put points on the board.
Another missed opportunity came immediately following that failed 4th down, as the Bengals had Minnesota pinned inside their own 5. The Vikings gave the ball to running back Jerick McKinnon, and after a great push by the Bengals' defensive line, McKinnon was pinned behind his own linemen five yards deep in the end zone. Margus Hunt was squared up in front of McKinnon with a chance to put two points up on the board, and he botched the opportunity. McKinnon got around Hunt with ease and put up 10 yards, which was the first positive play on Minnesota's first scoring drive, putting the Bengals down 7-0 in a game where they would never lead.
Cincinnati looked great in many ways. They beat the Vikings in first downs, yards (total, rushing, and passing), pass completions, return yardage and time of possession. Statistically, they dominated. But they couldn't finish. They couldn't finish plays, they couldn't finish drives and they couldn't finish off the game.
"I count that as 12 points," Lewis said after the game referencing the Bengals' missed opportunities. In a game decided by one point, all it would've taken was one conversion in a scoring opportunity to change the outcome of the game.
It's good for Cincinnati that preseason outcomes aren't important, and there's a lot that the Bengals did well, but working on converting scoring opportunities has to be objective number one for practice this week.