Winning is fun, but for much of Sunday's clash in New York, we saw an ugly and cringe-worthy performance from the Bengals offense.
That was really true of the offensive line, which went from being one of the NFL's best annually to looking like one of the league's worst against the Jets. While playing in New York against that defensive line is a tall order, allowing seven sacks to anyone is unacceptable for an NFL offensive line.
Much of Sunday's game saw Andy Dalton under siege at a rate the sixth-year vet had never seen before. He knows what playing behind a bad line looks like. In 2012, Dalton had six games in which he was sacked five or more times, but never in his career has he been taken down seven times.
"They were good up front," Dalton told ESPN after the game. "They did a good job, but we adjusted. We made plays, even when we set ourselves back with negative plays. But they're a good front."
He was sacked 20 times in 12 games last year, and hasn't been sacked five times since Week 10 at Baltimore in 2013.
So, what the heck happened Sunday?
For the most part, it was the Jets' defensive line simply outplaying the Bengals' line. New York defensive lineman accounted for six of the seven sacks. Some of it had to do with Cincinnati's lineman not reacting properly to various Jets blitzes and stunts. A few were coverage sacks in which Dalton held the ball too long.
Lewis did admit that as good as the Jets' defensive line is, they're not good enough to get seven sacks against the Bengals' offensive line on their own.
“Yes, that’s a good defensive football team all the way around. We’ve been saying that all week,” Marvin Lewis said after the game. “We’ve got to do better. We can’t give up seven sacks. Our quarterback will not make it through the season if we give up seven sacks a week.”
The biggest culprits on Cincinnati's side were center Russell Bodine and right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who got beaten throughout the game by New York. Those two simply cannot hold up against the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, who combined for four sacks.
However, allowing guys like Steve McLendon, whom Cincinnati was familiar with from his time in Pittsburgh, to have two sacks is unacceptable. McLendon had just two sacks over his last 46 games with the Steelers, but somehow got two in this game alone while largely going up against Cincinnati’s embattled center in the game.
Bodine’s play is killing this unit, but he cannot be faulted for Sunday's epic struggles. Stalwarts Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling also had trouble against the Jets' front, which just can't happen if this team is going to get back to the playoffs.
Lewis didn't go into too much detail about the line struggling, but was clearly frustrated when discussing it.
"We had some errors which is unfortunate, and that’s the biggest thing," Lewis said. "We’ll go look at it. I’m not going to sit here and explain things to you anytime, but certainly not right now."
When Andrew Whitworth was asked about the line making so many mistakes, he looked at it a bit differently. He looked at it being similar to last year's playoff loss to the Steelers, a game that was also full of offensive mistakes for the majority of the game, only for them to come back and make enough plays to come back and nearly win the game.
Whitworth looked at this Jets game as another game in which Cincinnati played poorly, but never stopped fighting, and eventually came back to put themselves in position to win.
"I think people look at last year, the Pittsburgh loss as a thing that was kind of damning to our team, Whitworth said. "I look at that Pittsburgh loss and say the reality is that we fought ourselves back into the playoffs to win a football game. I think this team has its ups and downs, but you find a way to win the game.
"That’s all that matters. That was very much the same feel right here. We had to make a comeback in the end and defense had to make a stop. That’s what you want to do to win football games in the league. That’s the goal."
Give Whitworth credit for his optimism about the Bengals gutting out a win when it seemed unlikely, but even he has to admit this was one of the worst efforts we've seen from this unit during his 11 years in stripes. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe the Jets had the perfect game plan and personnel to execute it.
Whatever the case is, the Bengals must put in the extra work going forward to make sure it doesn't happen again this year, even if it means someone losing their starting spot.