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Don’t call the Bengals’ loss a moral victory

There are no moral victories when you’ve lost seven of eight games.

Cincinnati Bengals v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Who would have thought Cincinnati had a shot against the Los Angeles Chargers; a team sporting a top-five offense and a top-ten defense?

Openly, I’m not the most confident Bengals fan right now — the illegal pick against Pittsburgh allowing the Steelers to steal a win remains a catalyst of the air that’s being squeezed from our collective lungs. Kansas City and New Orleans happened; then the accumulation of injuries finally sent the Bengals into a tailspin.

Competitive games. Moral victories. You despise saying it. You hate yourself for thinking it. It’s a meaningless term. If you don’t win, you don’t win. That’s the way of things.

However, when you’re bounced from the playoffs, bound for last place in a division that includes the Cleveland Browns, you compartmentalize your frustrations and hope for progress... somewhere.

This season is a wash, that much is true. Cincinnati’s starting quarterback, superstar wide receiver, and all star tight end are all out. Their backups are battling behind an offensive line that was poorly constructed — or allowed to be deconstructed with the exit of Andrew Whitworth.

The defense is troubling. Their last-place effort can’t claim injuries as an excuse; rather it’s a scheme that doesn’t seem to fit their skillset. Their linebacker situation is miserable; Hardy Nickerson would probably lose a sprint to Andrew Billings; Vontaze Burfict, when he actually plays, looks done physically and, according to one opponent, “he just quits on plays all the time.” It’s time to go.

Nothing about the Bengals is worth preserving right now. Blow it up. Start over. Why keep adding band-aides to an infected wound? Marvin Lewis has to go; new coordinators are needed. If you want to be more dramatic — let’s look at a new roster too.

Yet, the Bengals managed... to be competitive. With 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, Joe Mixon sliced through the line of scrimmage to score a potential game-tying touchdown. Unfortunately, Cincinnati failed the two-point conversion — a coverage sack — and the ensuing onside attempt was brutal.

Sunday had every appearance of being a blowout, with the Chargers using a combination of muscle and finesse to stomp 75 yards for a game-opening touchdown. Tackles were missed, angles incorrectly taken. At one point during the opening drive, analyst Bruce Arians mockingly said that the “Bengals are tackling each other”, allowing running back Austin Ekeler to gain additional yardage.

How embarrassing.

When the Bengals did something positive on defense, like sacking quarterback Philip Rivers with 3:41 remaining in the first, Rivers hit Keenan Allen for 16 and handed off to Justin Johnson for a three-yard third down conversion. Later on the same drive, after the Chargers were flagged for an offensive hold, Los Angeles faced a first-and-16. They needed two plays to generate 26 yards, including a 21-yard Ekeler screen. Eventually the Chargers expanded their lead 14-3 early in the second quarter.

Cincinnati began to show life midway into the second quarter, using a combination of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, quick throws to Tyler Boyd, and a 14-yard end-around by Alex Erickson that put Cincinnati on the Chargers three-yard line.

Unable to score a touchdown — largely due to the league’s inconsistent and rule interpretations — are you giving yourself up if you dive— Randy Bullock converted the ensuing field goal. Regardless, Cincinnati rebounded with nine unanswered points before the Chargers were gifted with a Jordan Willis offsides and a pair of 11-yard receptions, allowing Michael Badgley to convert a 59-yarder.

Despite their early struggles, Cincinnati’s defense fought hard. Three consecutive three-and-out possessions in the second quarter allowed the Bengals to recover — Joe Mixon led with over 100 yards (his second 100-yard game of the season) and quarterback Jeff Driskel was mistake-free. Los Angeles never had a lead more than one possession after Randy Bullock’s 23-yard second quarter field goal.

That’s something. Right?

Cincinnati falls to 5-8 on the season with seven losses in their last eight games. They return to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday to host the Raiders in their regular season home finale. Then they’ll head out to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to mercifully conclude the season.