Maybe the Bengals haven’t quite given up on 2017 quite yet. After three straight losses with varying degrees of embarrassment, Cincinnati stepped up in a big way against the Lions.
In the 26-17 win, there were both elements to point to long-term positivity, as well as issues that need to be addressed immediately after the conclusion of the season. Here are the best and worst factors from the Bengals’ playoff-eliminating win over Detroit.
Giovani Bernard: For the second consecutive week, Bernard excelled in primary running back duties. He ended up getting a massive amount of touches because of Joe Mixon suffering another injury, but had a career day against Detroit.
Bernard rushed 23 times for 116 yards (over five yards per rush) and also galloped into the end zone. He also had seven catches for 52 yards and was getting into pass blocking duties in aiding a battered offensive line.
The offensive line, despite the injuries: For the first time in his career, Clint Boling made an NFL start at left tackle, while guards Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond also got extensive action.
Westerman was particularly impressive at left guard, prompting more questions as to why he hasn’t been playing earlier in his career. Even though the unit let up some pressures and three sacks, they played pretty well for a group put together with band-aids and bubble gum.
The trio of former first round corners: William Jackson is emerging as a potential star this year, as a Pro Football Focus favorite this season and that continued on Sunday with three pass breakups. Dre Kirkpatrick had a nice day on the outside as well, knocking away another Matthew Stafford pass.
Darqueze Dennard got into the action with a team-leading seven tackles and all three made life difficult for Stafford. The Lions’ quarterback finished with just 203 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 54% completion rate.
William Jackson has allowed less the 40 percent of the throws into his coverage to be caught this season pic.twitter.com/qon2AyDAx6— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 26, 2017
Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson: The rookie fourth-round pick continues his bid for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had another sack on Stafford this week, giving him 8.5 on his great initial season as a pro.
Dunlap was up to his usual tricks, as he frustrated Stafford in a couple of different ways. He not only batted down a pass, but also had a sack to go with four total tackles.
Randy Bullock: Look, most fans wish Jake Elliott was given a proper chance to get his career started with the Bengals, but things haven’t been all doom-and-gloom with Bullock. Even though his overall attempts on the season have been limited, the veteran had another solid game against Detroit.
Bullock accounted for 14 of the Bengals’ 26 points on Sunday. He nailed all four of his field goal attempts, including a 51-yard boot, while also hitting both of his extra point tries.
Playing hard in the home finale: Injuries were plentiful both before and during the contest, while almost everyone is wondering what the situation is with Marvin Lewis and the future of the Bengals. Pretty much a recipe for another blowout, right?
Well, not so fast. Perhaps it was in finally giving talented youngsters a try, or maybe the pressure was completely off of the Bengals, but they put forth a nice effort in their 2017 Paul Brown Stadium finale on Christmas Eve. Props to the players and coaches for the win with so many issues.
The Andy Dalton/A.J. Green (lack of) connection: The Bengals’ starting quarterback has come under fire this season, but his star wideout has had a number of notable drops. Green had another big one against the Lions, where Dalton threw a dime of a deep ball and it bounced off his facemask. Dalton threw an interception while targeting Green, but the whole play was a mess.
A.J. Green tries to run a deep over left to right. Bumps into Brandon LaFell, who's trying to extend the seam upfield from the right slot. Delays Green's route, Dalton doesn't adjust, interception.— Doug Farrar (@BR_DougFarrar) December 25, 2017
Welcome to the Bengals' offense. Communication Breakdown. pic.twitter.com/gRX1MoJadi
Even when the two went trying to link up, No. 14 had issues. Even though the line played about as well as one could hope for, given the aforementioned injuries up front. Dalton was skittish and missed on 14 of his 41 attempts against Detroit and was still forcing passes to players who weren’t open.
Kick returns: Adam Jones is on Injured Reserve, as are other potential return options, but Alex Erickson hasn’t been able to harness the same type of magic from last season. Sunday was a particularly hard game for the second-year man.
On his two kickoff returns, Erickson only averaged 13 yards per run. Punt returns weren’t much better, as his lone attempt netted just three yards.
Draft positioning: With nine losses already amassed on the season, this is the hard part for Bengals fans to swallow. A win that is essentially meaningless only hinders the Bengals as they look to get immediate impact players next spring.
This is also particularly frustrating because it’s possible Lewis and some of his staff aren’t going to be the ones to benefit from whoever they grab next year. It’s always nice to get a win and you never want to see professional athletes tank games, but this win could have long-term effects, depending on how things play out through the coming winter and spring months.
Certain offensive efficiencies: Even with all of the overall issues on offense this year, Cincinnati has been pretty efficient in getting into the end zone when given the chances. Unfortunately, this was not the case this week against the Lions.
The Bengals were just 2-for-5 in red zone efficiency, while also just 1-of-2 in goal-to-go scenarios. It’s a good thing that Bullock had the game he did, otherwise, this result would have been different.