For many players on the Bengals’ roster, this season is their first losing season and their first time not making the NFL playoffs. Winning in the NFL is hard and at times during the five seasons that preceded this 6-9-1 year, the Bengals made winning look easier than it really is.
The Bengals started 2017 on a high note in a performance that had highs and lows and perfectly demonstrated why the Bengals are not in the playoffs. After getting off to a hot start and scoring 20 points in the first half (just like they did against the Steelers in Week 15), the Bengals didn’t score in the second half until there were two minutes and 23 seconds remaining in the game. The second half featured five punts for Cincinnati before Rex Burkhead scored his second touchdown of the game, the final score in a 27-10 win for the Bengals.
Andy Dalton made history on Sunday, becoming the second Bengals quarterback to complete two seasons with 4,000 passing yards. He was 18-of-28 for 226 yards and 1 touchdown in the season finale. That was good for a 101.2 quarterback rating. He finishes the season with 4,206 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Eight interceptions in a full season is Dalton's fewest since entering the NFL. Previously, his low was 13 interceptions in his rookie season. Last season in 12.25 games played, Dalton threw 7 interceptions. On Sunday, Marvin Lewis said this year was Dalton’s best as a pro, while also acknowledging the obvious in that it wasn’t the team’s best year since Dalton joined the NFL. Whether this season was actually Dalton’s best is up for debate, but what’s clear is that Dalton will be the Bengals’ quarterback for years to come.
Another milestone made on Sunday was Brandon LaFell reaching 60 catches and 800 yards this season, which earned him an extra $500,000 in incentives toward his contract.
Bengals WR Brandon Lafell needs 3 catches today to earn a $300,000 incentive for 60 catches; needs five yards to earn a $200,000 incentive.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 1, 2017
In his first year with the Bengals (on a one-year deal), LaFell totaled 64 catches on 104 targets, 862 yards and 6 touchdowns. Not bad for a cheap free agent. It will be interesting to see if the Bengals re-sign LaFell this offseason as he’s set to become a free agent in March.
Carlos Dunlap and Geno atkins are still dominant
On the first drive of the game, Atkins had a tackle and Dunlap had a sack. It was a great start to the game, which forced the Ravens to go three-and-out. Atkins ended up adding a half sack, shared with Pat Sims later on in the game, too. The Bengals brought down Joe Flacco three times on Sunday, the other sack coming from Wallace Gilberry. Unfortunately, getting to the quarterback has been an issue for the Bengals this year, and the Bengals ranked 22nd in that category coming into Sunday’s season finale. With Atkins and Dunlap on the roster, the Bengals should have had far more sacks this season. The Bengals finish the season with 33 sacks, nine less than the 42 tallied last season.
The Bengals need to shore up their defensive line backups, add an early round (maybe first round) defensive end, and consider how they’re going to improve the line next season. Andrew Billings should be healthy and ready to contribute after the rookie was injured before this season ever began, so that’s one new face fans can look forward to. The Bengals also need to consider whether Michael Johnson should maintain his starting role, because for the large majority of this season, he was not playing like a starting defensive end. In fact, he’s been one of the worst at his position in the league. I’d like to see an edge rusher added in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the No. 9 overall pick.
Rex Burkhead should be a top 2 RB
On Sunday, Burkhead displayed just why he should be back with the Bengals in a prominent role next season. Unfortunately, as he has the same type of role as Giovani Bernard (who’s locked up through 2019) and with Jeremy Hill still on his rookie contract through 2017, it’s no sure bet that Burkhead will be re-signed by the Bengals this offseason. He becomes a free agent in March and since Bernard’s ACL tear in Week 11, Burkhead has displayed enough to prove he’s worthy of at least competing to be a starter in 2017.
Burkhead has shown great burst, straight running ability and a clear desire to edge out the competition. On Burkhead’s first of two touchdown runs against the Ravens, he worked around defenders, maintained his balance, and broke free into the end zone. It’s impossible to say for sure, but I just don’t think Hill would have gotten the touchdown Burkhead did on the Bengals’ opening drive of Sunday’s game.
Knowing what we know now and what we’ve seen from Hill this season, do you think he would have made that play? 2016 was a disappointing season for Hill, followed by a disappointing 2015 season, that ended with him fumbling away the Bengals’ closest attempt at a playoff win during the Marvin Lewis era. Burkhead was an upgrade over Hill this week and it’s too bad we had to wait this long to see Burkhead’s first NFL start in what could be his final game with the Bengals.
Many of the Bengals’ rookies played a great game against the Ravens in the season finale, but right before the end of the first half, Tyler Boyd caught a 13 yard pass, but didn't get out of bounds, letting the clock role and forcing Dalton to spike the ball to stop the clock. The Bengals then decided with seven seconds before the half that they didn't have enough time to attempt a touchdown play and kicked a field goal on third-and-two. Randy Bullock made the 24-yard field goal, his second field goal of the day, and gave the Bengals a 20-3 lead heading into the half. It was unfortunate that Boyd didn’t get out of bounds, but it was also strange that Ken Zampese didn’t want to attempt one more play before bringing out the field goal unit. I see this as rookie mistakes from both the player and the coach in his first year as offensive coordinator.
First half stats
Burkhead: 11 attempts, 54 yards, 1 touchdown. Boyd: 1 attempt (a reverse) for 15 yards. Cedric Peerman: 2 attempts, 8 yards. Dalton: 1 attempt, 1 yard.
Cody Core: 4/4, 82 yards. Boyd: 2/2, 39 yards. Brandon LaFell: 4/5, 35 yards. Uzomah: 3/3, 13 yards, 1 touchdown. Burkhead: 1/1, 12 yards.
Dalton: 14/17, 181 yards, 1 touchdown and a 130.6 passer rating.
The Bengals scored on all four of their first half possessions with two touchdowns and two field goals. The Ravens had their four first half possessions (not including the kickoff that took the game to halftime) end with a punt, field goal, punt, and a red zone interception. Even with this game meaning nothing, it was nice to see the Bengals dominating an AFC North opponent not named the Browns.
Vigil got in on the action in Baltimore with Vontaze Burfict out with a concussion and the rookie has come a long way this season. I’d imagine Vigil will be a much more important part of the defense in his second year and he’s shown the Bengals that he can be the player they hoped he’d be when he was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Vigil had a big play on fourth-and-two in the third quarter when the Ravens opted to go for it on the Bengals’ 8 yard line. Vigil broke up the pass, targeted for Dennis Pitta and ensured the Ravens wouldn’t score on the drive. It was a great play, likely the best of his young career, and showed why the Bengals should have faith in him moving forward.
C.J. Uzomah could become a great tight end
Uzomah has flashed greatness from time-to-time, receiving significant hype in the preseason. But when he had to carry the team as the No. 1 tight end to start the year, it wasn’t always pretty. The season started and ended with Uzomah as the No. 1 TD as both Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft started and ended the season with injuries. Uzomah has developed nicely during his first two years in the league and with Eifert continually hurt, Uzomah should be relied upon more heavily in 2017. His touchdown against the Ravens was the first of his career, and he was wide open to make the grab. Uzomah finishes the season with 25 catches on 38 targets for 234 yards and 1 touchdown. After a rookie season that saw Uzomah grab one catch for four yards, at a minimum, we can say he's improving. Uzomah also missed six games this season due to injury and being inactive in a few games during which both tight ends named Tyler were healthy. It was quite rare for all three Bengals tight ends to be healthy at the same time this season.
Final Week 17 stats
Burkhead: 27 attempts, 119 yards, 2 touchdowns. Boyd: 1 attempt, 15 yards. Peerman: 6 attempts, 15 yards. Dalton: 4 attempts, 4 yards.
Core: 4/5, 82 yards. LaFell: 7/11, 67 yards. Boyd: 2/3, 39 yards. Burkhead: 2/2, 25 yards. Uzomah: 3/3, 13 yards. Peerman, 0/1.
Dalton: 18/28, 226 yards, 1 touchdown, 101.2 passer rating.
6-9-1 season is over
This season is over and it flew by way too fast, for all the wrong reasons. We had quite high hopes for how this season would play out, and unfortunately, nothing turned out the way we expected. Personnel losses both in the player and coaching ranks, a hangover from last year’s Wild Card failure and tons of other issues accumulated to account for the most disappointing season for the Bengals in six years. 2016 will be a year to forget for the Bengals, that’s for sure. And for now, we can turn to the future and hope for good things to come down the line. I’ll go back to my optimist ways for the offseason after trending toward pessimism for the last eight weeks. Something about this season really changed my attitude, but my positive outlook is ready for an offseason return.
2017 is the Bengals’ year! Right?