Cincinnati was up big in the second half before letting Tampa Bay storm back and tie the game late. If it wasn’t for some late game heroics by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, we may be talking about the past three weeks very differently.
Still, despite getting the win, head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t happy with how his team played.
“As I summed it up, we were fortunate to win the football game,” Lewis told reporters at his press conference on Monday. “We had people who did some good things, but we didn’t play well enough around the board, particularly on defense. The opportunity for us to evaluate comes at a good time, and to have the guys understand their responsibilities. (The bye week) will be a good time for that.
“I’m very disappointed in the way we’ve played the past two weeks.”
These comments are actually important. It would be so easy for players, coaches and fans to be content with the team’s 5-3 record at this point in the season. This is especially true when you look at the remaining schedule that includes two games against the recently imploded Browns and Raiders. The road to a 10-win season seems pretty clear.
That isn’t what fans, players or coaches should be happy with though. The Bengals are out to prove they are capable of making a run in the postseason, and not just content to make it to the Wild Card round. That is something the past three weeks have really put into doubt.
Whether it was giving up a gut-wrenching last minute touchdown to the Steelers, getting stomped by the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football or giving up 18 third-quarter points to the Buccaneers, Cincinnati hasn’t shown the makings of being an actual contender, which is what they should be striving to be.
It’d feel more acceptable if this team wasn’t looking at a window that is shutting sooner than many expect. The core of this team is either almost 30 or just past it. You can’t have a season like this and be happy with it knowing it was a wasted opportunity.
This is the type of season we got excited about when Dalton and Green were young players, because it inspired hope that one day this team could be a contender. Yet here we are.
Now this isn’t to bash fans who are content with watching this team lose in the Wild Card. We have seen it can be much worse, but it is disappointing to watch such promising careers just fizzle out with a team content with being in the middle of the pack.
For once, it is easy to agree with Lewis. The Bengals have to use this bye week to really commit to getting better. They will have a chance to prove they are ready to contend with the Saints visiting them in the jungle in Week 10.
You have to wonder how many of these chances they can squander though before fans are forced to just be content with the slow march to another early out for Cincinnati in the playoffs.