The 5-5 Bengals have won just one out of their last four games, thanks in part to their defense that is the NFL’s worst in most statistical categories.
To fix that, they fired their defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, head coach Marvin Lewis assumed the defensive responsibilities, and they brought in Hue Jackson to help manage the sideline.
So, even though the Bengals gave up 400 yards, they held the Ravens to just 24 points. But their offense needed a conversion to keep the game in reach. Down 24-21 on their own 37-yard line, the Bengals needed three yards on fourth down.
Typically, the Bengals would go to A.J. Green here and trust the future Hall of Famer to come down with the ball. But he was out with an injury.
Without Green, who does Andy Dalton pass the ball to on this crucial play? Is it Tyler Boyd, the team leader in receptions? Is it John Ross, who already has a spectacular touchdown reception on the day? Is it C.J. Uzomah, who is the Bengals’ only tight end from the opening day roster to remain healthy? Or Matt Lengel, who also has a touchdown on the day? Or even Auden Tate, the physical freak? Or Giovani Bernard, one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL?
It was Cody Core.
Cody Core, who had zero catches in 2017. Cody Core, who had five catches all year, three of which came in garbage time against the Chiefs in Week 7. Cody Core, who ranks 10th on the team in receptions per game and yards per game.
And what does Cody Core do? He drops it. Ravens win. Bengals drop out of the playoff picture.
Bengals fandom was reasonably upset.
Cody Core....— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) November 18, 2018
The Bengals keep trusting Cody Core in situations where everyone else knows they have no reason to be trusting Cody Core.— Rebecca Toback (@Rebecca_Toback) November 18, 2018
Cody Core.— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) November 18, 2018
5 catches. 47 yards on the season.
That's who the Bengals threw it to on 4th and 3 with the game on the line.
Why would the Bengals go to Cody Core when there were so many better options available?
But more importantly, why do the Bengals give second chances to people that clearly don’t can’t handle them?
Not only was Core the targeted receiver on a crucial fourth down, but Hardy Nickerson was wearing the green dot on the defensive side of the ball. Not only was he on the field, which is more than his merit has shown he can handle, but he was calling the plays. Alex Redmond is allowing an alarming amount of pressures at right guard, but he keeps going right back out there. Bobby Hart gets called for at least one key penalty a game and is still one of the worst tackles in football, but his job is in no danger whatsoever.
The frustrating thing is, the Bengals have the same problems every week. Dalton faces too much pressure from the right side of the line. Core keeps dropping passes whenever he rarely gets targeted. The linebackers can’t cover anybody, and the defense in general remains very slow to react.
Despite all of this, Marvin Lewis waltzes into the press conference every week and insists he is trying to get a world championship.
When the Bengals have personnel issues, they trade their day two draft picks for day three draft picks. When the Bengals have holes in their lineups, they forgo free agency or go sign lower-tier players like Hart, Brandon LaFell, or Kevin Minter.
When the Bengals have their best wide receiver out with an injury, they opt not to make a trade at the deadline or sign a free agent (how painful was it that the Bengals could have signed Dez Bryant, only for him to go their opponent that week?).
But the Bengals insist that they can win games with the players they have. Then they lose. They insist Core can help the team win, then he drops a three-yard pass.
In conclusion, Core’s dropped pass on fourth down doesn’t just represent a dropped pass, or even a loss. It represents the entire systemic plague that has infected the Bengals since the death of Paul Brown. That’s why the Bengals haven’t been able to put anything together since Brown’s departure. They keep trying to do things the way they always do them, even when it doesn’t work.
So, yes, it is frustrating that Core was the focal point on what could be the most important play of the season. It is even more frustrating knowing why he was there in the first place, and why he will remain in the picture as this season continues to spiral out of control.