However, when you look at how the Bengals did against actual playoff teams, it really puts a damper on that excitement. Overall the Bengals finished 1-5 against teams who made it to the playoffs, and of the teams still alive, they are 0-5.
This is something that has to change next season.
Bengals defeated Bills, 20-16
The only playoff team the Bengals beat this season was the Buffalo Bills, who the Bengals helped complete the miracle end to the season. The Bills were the second win of the season for the Bengals. It was a hard-fought game where A.J. Green had to overcome being responsible for three turnovers on the day. He ultimately set up the game-winning touchdown run by Joe Mixon though. It was a rough, and ugly day where the Bengals just made one more big offensive play than the Bills did.
Titans defeated Bengals, 24-20
The only close game the Bengals had with any of these teams was against the Titans. Like the game against the Bills, it was an ugly game, but the Bengals needed one more play. The entire game the offense struggled to consistently move the ball, and the defense struggled to get the Titans off the field.
While the Titans were up 17-13 in the second half, they began running the clock for most of the second half. A great play by Dre Kirkpatrick combined with a rookie mistake by Corey Davis created a turnover on the goal line.
As Davis went to stretch out the ball for the pylon, Kirkpatrick hit him causing Davis to lose control of the ball out of the end zone for a touchback. This play seemed even more important after Green scored on a 70-yard touchdown with five minutes left.
All the Bengals defense had to do was get one more stop, but when they needed it most, they couldn’t stop the Titans from driving. After spending most of the game on the field, signs of exhaustion showed as the Titans drove down the field to score the game-winning touchdown with under a minute remaining.
Jaguars defeated Bengals, 23-7
Then there was the loss to the Jaguars. One of the most frustrating of the season. Green was ejected at halftime for choke slamming Jalen Ramsey. It almost felt like he was getting out his frustrations for the season more than anything. Most of the game the Bengals were in striking range only trailing 16-7, but a late punt return for a touchdown provided the exclamation point the Jaguars needed to put that game to bed. There was never a doubt who the better team was as the Jaguars routinely converted on third down, and the Bengals never found a way to move the ball.
Vikings defeated Bengals, 34-7
One of the least competitive games of the season was the Bengals loss to the Vikings, although this one was slightly more understanding. The Bengals got rocked with injuries later in the game, and the team went in without Mixon for the second-straight week. It was clear Mike Zimmer had all the answers for the Bengals that Sunday. The loss was especially painful as it was the second time the Bengals let the opposing team drop 30 points on them.
Steelers defeated the Bengals twice, 29-14 and 23-20
Twice during the season, the Bengals were a game away from reaching .500 again, and possibly turning their season around. But twice they lost to the Steelers in frustrating ways.
The first game against the Steelers came in Week 7. If the Bengals would’ve won, they would be sitting at 3-3 fully digging themselves out of their 0-3 hole they started in. It looked promising at first as the Bengals were keeping pace with the Steelers. Most of that thanks to Mixon who had 68 yards on only 10 touches. A
s the Bengals came out of halftime with the ball only down 20-14, we expected to see more of Mixon. Instead, the Bengals wasted the opening drive by running Jeremy Hill straight into the offensive line, and the team went three-and-out. The Steelers kicked a field goal on the next drive, and the Bengals never gave Mixon the ball again.
In a game where the Steelers only scored nine points in the second half, it is insane to think the most productive player from the first half couldn’t even get a carry in the second. It really was a wasted effort by the defense. However, the second time around the defense screwed things up.
At 5-6 the Bengals again looked to take command of their own playoff destiny by defeating the Steelers. Things started out great as the Bengals jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but a late drive before the half got the Steelers on the board with a field goal.
After halftime, everything changed. The Steelers were moving the ball way too easily. Including a touchdown for Le’Veon Bell where William Jackson didn’t push him out of bounds on the sideline. Then things got ugly when JuJu Smith-Schuster lined up Vontaze Burfict for one of the cheapest shots in recent history. He followed that up by standing over top of him.
Mixon was also knocked out of the game with a concussion, which completely derailed the offense. What made everything worse was this happened as the Steelers erased a late 17-point lead the Bengals had to win the game in regulation.
It is clear that last season the Bengals weren’t prepared to take on the top tier teams in the NFL. They weren’t even ready to take on the second tier really. This was a team that was somewhere in the middle of the pact that struggled to make the play to win games.
The good thing is they do have quite the foundation to build on this offseason.