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What they’re saying about the Bengals’ season finale win over the Ravens

Although the Bengals’ Week 17 win didn’t mean much to the final standings, not being swept by a division rival meant a lot to the Bengals and their fans.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

It can’t be easy to find motivation in an NFL game when there isn’t much left to play for in the season. For both the Bengals and the Ravens in Week 17, that was the case.

For the Bengals, it has been assumed that the Week 17 game against the Ravens was the way the season was going to end since the Bengals dropped their first game against the Ravens in Week 12. Before that point, there was still a slim hope that the Bengals could turn things around for the improbable division victory. But, after that, any hope for a salvaged season led to ridiculous scenarios that everyone knew weren’t going to happen. That is, until they lost to the Steelers in Week 15 and were officially eliminated.

The Bengals looked like a downtrodden team last week in their meaningless game, against the Texans. But, as remarked on by Katherine Terrell of ESPN, a completely different Bengals team showed up this week against the Ravens.

Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes, one of them for a touchdown, and the Bengals were on their way to another home victory over a division rival.

And then? An uncomfortably long offseason.

Dalton was sharp early, and Rex Burkhead ran for a pair of touchdowns on Sunday and Cincinnati beat Baltimore 27-10 on Sunday for its fifth straight win at home over the Ravens.

The Bengals (6-9-1) missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years, and haven't won a playoff game in 26 years, the sixth-longest streak in NFL history. Coach Marvin Lewis -- 0-7 in the postseason -- says he'll return in 2017.

As uncomfortably long as this offseason is going to be, it’s nice that the Bengals ended on a positive note. The performances of certain players who are playing for contract extensions, like Burkhead, as well as the young, developing players, shows that the Bengals are going to be just fine going forward. Unfortunately, 2016 was a year of growing pains, but it will hopefully be worth it as the team grows and gels.

One particularly positive take-away from the Bengals’ 2016 season finale was the emergence of Burkhead. The Bengals selected him with the 190th pick in the 2013 NFL draft (sixth round), essentially as just another depth running back after Giovani Bernard was selected in the second round of that same draft. However, he has stayed with the team through tremendous adversity over the course of his rookie contract and, as explained by Jeff Walner of UPI, showed what he is truly capable of following his first career start on Sunday.

Burkhead, a free-agent following this season, got a chance to showcase his skills Sunday with Jeremy Hill out injured.

Burkhead had 27 yards on four carries including his first career touchdown on a 5-yard run on the Bengals' first possession.

"Today was huge for me, I'm not going to back down and say it's not," Burkhead said. "I like Cincinnati, I love it here. I hope I can stay here. We'll see what happens."

Part of the reason Burkhead has been so celebrated by Bengals fans this year is the fact that he has emerged despite frustrating ineptitude on offense. That said, it’s not hard to figure out why things have been that way this season. After losing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and three major offensive players (Andre Smith, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu), it should have been assumed that the 2016 incarnation of the Bengals would look significantly different than 2015.

That is exactly what happened. The offense clearly went through growing pains this year, which was particularly evident in the running game. That’s why Burkhead breaking out is so exciting, though unfortunately it comes at a bad time as he’s about to become a free agent. However, possibly left unnoticed by many, is the fact that Andy Dalton had one of his best seasons in 2016. The aforementioned chemistry issues affected his ability to find the endzone, so his touchdown numbers were down (18). But, he also threw only eight interceptions, a career low for him in a full 16-game season. His second 4000+ yard season was of particular interest, as noted by Anthony Broome of CBS Sports, putting a nice ribbon on an otherwise dreadful season.

The Cincinnati Bengals do not have a whole lot to play for in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens, but Andy Dalton just set a mark that puts him near the top of the franchise record books.

Dalton eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark early in Sunday's game, which gives him his second season in his career of passing that total. The only other quarterback in franchise history to do that was Carson Palmer.

The Bengals' signal-caller has not had the greatest season and many of his offensive options have been unavailable due to injuries. He has been able to find a way to move the ball and set up the team for success.

All in all, the Bengals’ 2016 season was not, by any means, what the team or the fans wanted after five years in a row of making the playoffs and burning out immediately. But, as rough as it was, the rebuilding year might be exactly what the franchise needed as the old system had clearly hit a wall. After seeing the way the Bengals played throughout most of the second half of this season, it seems as though there is hope for the future after all.