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6 things we learned from Bengals’ victory over the Ravens

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Tyler Boyd is good, Bills fans are better.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals ended the season on a high note as they beat the Ravens in Baltimore.

This feels good after being shut out by the very same Ravens in Paul Brown Stadium on the opening day of the Bengals’ 50th season. If the Bengals can’t make the playoffs, the Ravens can’t either.

The flip side of this is that it gave Mike Brown just enough to justify extending Marvin Lewis’ contract. What a bummer.

As the Bengals enter the offseason, some big changes are inevitable. Before all the craziness starts, here is what we have learned in the final game of the 2017 season:

There is a reason the Bengals invested in Tyler Boyd

Though he had fewer receptions, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Kroft, Bengals Tyler number three stepped up in a big way.

The Ravens, a team known for great defense, had the tools to shut down A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell. The Bengals needed someone else to step up, and Boyd took the spotlight. The second-year player from Pittsburgh was open on almost every third down and showed the athletic ability and instincts needed to be successful in the NFL. He received a career-high 93 yards and came through in the end to win the game.

The season started out shaky for Boyd. He was a healthy scratch in Week 2, and though we still don’t know why, it seemed disciplinary in some way. Later, in October, he was faced with criminal charges that further complicated things.

But in the last two weeks, he has shown why the Bengals invested a second-round pick in him. He set his season high in targets, catches, and yards two weeks in a row to end the season. He may even be a good WR2 before too long.

With John Ross back (fingers crossed), as well as other promising receivers like Josh Malone, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson to build around, Boyd looks to be a centerpiece in a receiving corps to help compliment the legendary Dalton/Green connection.

The Bernard/Mixon combo works

Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon have different skill sets but are equally important. The duo combined for 161 total yards. Being able to run the ball successfully will really help Dalton and the passing game next year, which will hopefully raise the Bengals from last place in scoring.

It’s a shame that it took 16 weeks to figure it out, but the offense finally made it work. With Mixon’s speed and explosiveness and Bernard’s strength and savvy, both backs averaged above five yards a rush.

That kind of production has been missing all year, and it was great to see it against a great Baltimore defense. The Bengals would do well to follow the same pattern next year.

The defense needs work, but there is a good base to build around

With Ian Rappoport tweeting that Paul Guenther might be out the door, the defense looks like it will be set for a remodel in 2018. Will Adam Jones be back? Will the Bengals find anyone to compliment Vontaze Burfict at linebacker? Who will help Geno Atkins stuff the interior?

While there are many question marks, the future still looks promising for the Bengals’ defense. William Jackson has been a delightful surprise this year. Carl Lawson has proved himself to be a late-round steal in this year’s draft.

Even Jordan Evans followed up a poor performance in Week 16 with a fantastic Week 17, earning the highest PFF grade on the team. There is enough young talent to make the new coaching staff excited, complimented with the experience of other players like George Iloka, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson to make the defense look very threatening.

The offensive line is not ground zero we thought it was

The Bengals found some success after mixing and matching on the offensive line. Not only did the running backs nearly double their average production, but Dalton was only hit once all game. Clint Boling had a much better day at left tackle, Alex Redmond was solid, and even Kent Perkins had some good blocks when he filled in for Eric Winston on a few plays.

This is very good news for Bengals fans because it means the Bengals won’t have to do a complete overhaul this offseason. The Bengals would be foolish not to address the line in the draft; that being said, there are fewer holes than we thought at the beginning of the season. Boling could play guard or tackle, Redmond could factor into the mix, and Perkins and Christian Westerman could be given more opportunities to step up in training camp.

Now, with a solid, young base, the Bengals can maximize their draft picks to create a line that features rookies and returning players alike. It would probably take a few years (and resigning players instead of letting them walk away), but the Bengals could have a good offensive line that won’t hold the team back.

The Bengals are actually kind of good

All things considered, the Bengals ended the 2017 season on a high note. Even though they won’t be in the playoffs, the Bengals finished 2-0 against winning teams in the last two weeks, knocking both out of playoff contention.

If the Bengals had played like that all year, it’s not hard to imagine another playoff berth under Marvin’s belt. With the line protecting, the running backs scooting, and the defense stifling, fans are probably wondering where this team was the whole year.

There are a few holes to plug, but a good draft and some free agent signings should do the trick. Marvin will have plenty of ammunition to prove he deserves his new extension.

Bills fans remind us why we love sports

To thank Andy Dalton for his go-ahead touchdown pass to Boyd that sent the Bills to the playoffs, fans from Buffalo have donated upwards of $170,000 to the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation.

In an odd turn of events, because Dalton threw a touchdown pass to Boyd, Bills fans are helping thousands of ill and handicapped children in Cincinnati and Fort Worth receive support and life-changing experiences (If you want to join the bandwagon, you can donate here).

This is why sports is about more than just athletes playing a game on television. Sports gives a platform to some and voices to others. It was more than a game when four-year-old Leah Still received life-changing cancer treatments, or when Michael Johnson helped bring the youth and Cincinnati and the police together, or when Carlos Dunlap teaches kids to stand up to bullies.

At the end of the day, athletes bring us all together, and games make us better people. Sure, we love watching sports for the love of the game. But when we see this kind of compassion is enacted, it’s a completely different story.

Bills Mafia. Who knew?