The Cincinnati Bengals are back in the win column.
It was far from pretty, but the Bengals found a way to gut out a 20-17 win at Denver. It was a game Cincinnati was in control of much of the way, despite a lackluster performance by the offense.
Here is a look at our winners and losers from the big win.
The Ground Game
The Bengals’ rushing offense has become arguably the worst that any NFL team has. Against the Broncos, they managed to gain just 51 yards on 21 attempts. That came one week after getting just 53 yards on 14 runs at Tennessee, which came after a 29-yard outing on 17 runs at Jacksonville.
Much of the blame can go on the offensive line. Between Cedric Ogbuehi being the worst left tackle in football and Russell Bodine being arguably the worst center, the expectations for this unit aren’t exactly high to begin with.
Yet somehow, they manage to fail to even reach those lowered expectations.
This was the game Vincent Rey was supposed to show he was worthy of being the starting middle linebacker with Vontaze Burfict on the weakside. The Bengals had been trying Burfict in the middle, a role he struggled mightily in.
That’s why the Bengals moved Rey to the middle, but he injured his hamstring early in this game, and he did not return. It’s a bad break for Rey, who has been a backup for much of his career, so getting to start is a special opportunity when it comes, but it looks like this one will be short-lived.
You won’t find many, if any 154-yard performances better than this one. Somehow, that’s all andy Dalton needed to throw for three touchdowns and helped lead the Bengals to their first win in Denver in four decades.
Dalton also was relatively clean when it came to avoiding sacks, as he was taken down just twice. It was just the third time that Dalton has been sacked two or fewer times this season.
It wasn’t pretty, but Dalton was as good as one could ask for in an offense that is struggling mightily to protect him, not to mention have receivers other than A.J. Green get open consistently.
Tyler Kroft is enjoying a breakout season while replacing the injured Tyler Eifert, whose future in Cincinnati is murky at best. Kroft has been doing a solid job of picking up the slack. He even caught a touchdown in the first quarter of this game, his fourth of the season, all of which coming in the last seven games.
That’s Eifert-esque scoring production, and he’s been one of the few bright spots in what’s been an enigmatic offense all season. Kroft probably would have had a bigger game if not for a hand injury that knocked him out temporarily. He later returned with a cast on his hand and subsequently dropped a pass.
Even so, two catches for 12 yards and a score feels like 200 receiving yards in this offense.
The Bengals are starting to feature Alex Erickson more in the passing game, and he's rewarding them. Against the Broncos, Erickson caught just two passes, but they went for 42 yards and a touchdown that put the Bengals ahead for good in the first half.
That also was Erickson’s first career touchdown reception. He’s done plenty of damage as a return man thus far in his promising career, but this was the first time he reached the end zone on offense, and it proved to be a crucial play in a three-point win.
The Bengals are now one game out of the playoff hunt. That’s the only statistic that Bengals fans need to know.
Ignore the 4-6 record, the enigmatic offense, the inability to get A.J. Green the ball more, or the horrid run game. All that matters at this point is, despite all of their issues, the Bengals still have a shot at the postseason.
Sometimes, hope is all you need, and for all of the Bengals’ issues, hope is something they still have.