“A win is a win”. That seems to be the sentiment for Week 16 when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Regardless of how ugly it got on Christmas Eve, Zac Taylor and the boys improved to 11-4, winning their seventh straight. Here are the best and worst of those performances.
Most of Joe Burrow:
When you look at most of this game, Burrow put on a clinic. He sliced-and-diced one of the best passing defenses in the league, be it by “50-50 balls” (that always seem to tip in Cincinnati’s favor because of their receivers and ball placement), short and intermediate beauties, or the deep dime to Ja’Marr Chase inside the Patrtiots’ 5-yard line, he was dealing.
...my word, Joe Burrow had some RIPS yesterday. He might have a highlight reel on his INCOMPLETIONS lol— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 25, 2022
We don't show a ton of All-22 on our broadcast, but I'll keep fighting the good fight! pic.twitter.com/Lq1Ux24yzD
Even on plays that weren’t made, such as the would-be touchdown to Trenton Irwin off the fingertips, Burrow was hitting a number of pretty passes all day. A couple of odd interceptions marred the stat line, but it was mostly beauties from Nine all day.
Tee and Trenton:
Tee Higgins is a monster. Sure, there’s the occasional easy drop, but he absolutely crushes the “50-50 balls” and his sheer size allows him to box out defensive backs with as much ease as a high school senior going up against sixth graders in schoolyard basketball.
Meanwhile, with Tyler Boyd experiencing lingering issues with his dislocated finger, Trenton Irwin has stepped up admirably. He had two great touchdown grabs on Saturday and was an eyelash away from from a hat trick (would Boyd have snagged that one?).
Irwin, like so many others on this roster, have stepped up with others suffering unfortunate injuries.
The Rhamondre Stevenson fumble:
In magical seasons that teams experience, improbable plays with time winding down usually help write the story. For the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals, one of those seemingly-impossible moments occurred with 55 seconds left in the game.
Facing what seemed to become a sure, late lead and eventual end to the six-game win streak, somehow the Bengals’ defense pulled another metaphorical rabbit out of their hat and...voila: seven straight wins. It’s the second-longest win streak by the team dating back to the 2015 Bengals team who had a special season of their own, despite its end.
Regardless, these types of plays in a team’s favor are the call-backs when recounting a Lombardi season years later in a documentary.
We can more accurately point to the first two quarters, but, in reality, Cincinnati’s defense was responsible for just 12 of New England’s 18 points scored (pick-six). A timely turnover, four sacks on Mac Jones and a first-half shutout all pointed to sheer dominance, despite a couple of flukey plays against them.
“Finding a way”:
When you string together wins and put together a special season, getting the ugliest wins can be the most satisfying. This domination turned extremely disappointing, only to see the Bengals keep their magical ways going and improving to 11-4.
Quarterback-wide receiver miscommunication:
Both of Burrow’s interceptions on the day seemed to have stemmed with the rare miscommunication between he and his excellent receivers. Boyd appeared to have stopped short on a route moving inside, where Burrow thought he was going to keep going.
On the pick six, Chase took the route upfield when Burrow clearly expected him to take the out route. We’re not completely sure who was right or wrong on these (Burrow and Boyd were seen having a discussion after the first pick), but these can’t happen with the Bills, Ravens and whomever else on deck in the postseason.
Limping to the finish line?:
Sam Hubbard sat this one out, Trey Hendrickson played limited snaps and Boyd is still being bothered by his finger. Throw in other wide receiver and secondary injuries in the recent past and Cincinnati has some big regrouping to do for a playoff run.
Greatly complicating matters is a season-ending knee injury to La’el Collins. Hakeem Adeniji is the next man up there, but it’s a big blow to a unit that was starting to show a lot of cohesion of late.
Still, despite Collins being out, the Bengals are slowly getting a bit healthier across the board. It’s just been a rough go of things over the past handful of weeks.
The second half implosion:
We know it’s Bill Belichick and it’s on his home turf, but letting go of a three-touchdown lead in two quarters?! It took a little bit of everything for the Patriots to get back in this one, but it occurred and nearly created what would have been one of the most frustrating losses in recent Bengals history.
Part of the comeback by New England came in the form of Cincinnati missing opportunities to put a stranglehold on this game. The two aformentioned interceptions were the big culprits, but there were other incredibly frustrating moments.
One had to be the two-play sequence in the middle of the fourth quarter. Up 22-12, Cincinnati barely missed on a touchdown throw to Irwin, then opted for the field goal only to see it sail wide. The Bengals’ kicker also left five other points on the board.
Saturday was a rough one for both kickers. As mentioned “Money Mac” was anything but on Christmas Eve, missing a field goal attempt and two extra points. Nick Folk didn’t fare much better on his home turf, missing two extra points himself.
Obviously, the weather was rough and one of the end zones had that “swirling wind”, and it’s hard to pin it just on McPherson when Folk also had trouble. But, this is the time of the year where McPherson needs to get that ice pumping in his veins again, as he and the Bengals will be in other treacherous situations/venues going forward.