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Tuesday Trenches: They Are Who We Thought They Were

All good things must come to an end.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

All good things must come to an end. The Cincinnati Bengals’ fairytale season came via a heartbreaking loss to the Rams in Super Bowl LVI by a score of 23-20.

The Bengals trailed at halftime, but scored a touchdown on the first play of the second half, and then after a Matt Stafford interception, Evan McPherson was set up for what would be his 14th and final field goal of the playoffs. Those 10 points would be the last the Bengals would score in the game. Stafford and the Rams scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left in regulation and would go on to win after stopping Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense on a fourth-and-short play at the Rams 49-yard line.

I went into the game with the mindset that, no matter the outcome, I would enjoy the final game of the season. At the beginning of the season, I thought that if the Bengals could win eight games, I’d be happy and comfortable with the direction of the team under head coach Zac Taylor. Of course, they went on to not only win the division, but win the AFC Championship. They were playing with house money. Losing the Super Bowl, though, was like a punch in the gut.

The season is over. Here are a few things that went right, some that didn’t and a look ahead at the offseason.

Denial

Of course, the Bengals can’t lose their first Super Bowl in 33 years like that, can they? After leading until the final two minutes of the second half, the defense was unable to hold the Rams offense out of the end zone any longer. Maybe at first, you felt numb after Cooper Kupp hauled in the go-ahead touchdown pass from Stafford with 1:29 left in the game. If you did, you weren’t alone.

Anger

How could the referees possibly call holding on Logan Wilson on a perfectly defensed pass in that situation? They basically handed the Rams the game! The last thing the referees should do is decide the outcome of the Super Bowl after letting the players go after each other for 90% of the game.

Why the hell are you calling a run play on third-and-one from midfield with 48 seconds left? How could you possibly be so stupid? And why would you give the ball to Samaje Perine and not your 220-pound pro-bowl running back?

What the hell were they thinking?

Bargaining

Okay, it’s fourth-and-one. This is the game, right here. I swear, by the old gods and the new, that if Joe Burrow completes this pass and at least gets McPherson into field goal range, I’ll quit smoking/drinking/gambling/whatever. Please, football gods, let the offensive line give Burrow enough time to find a receiver downfield.

I’ll do anything for a Bengals win, and yes, I will do whatever Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love.

Pain

The offensive line couldn’t give Burrow enough time. The game is over. I want to crawl into a dark hole somewhere in the mountains and live the rest of my life like Gollum, searching for a ring that I’m not destined to have. Filthy Rams’es... they stole it from us.

We’ll never win. This was our chance. I’m going to go into the back yard and dig my own grave.

Acceptance

This is where the good news comes.

The Bengals went to the Super Bowl with a team that was expected to finish last in the AFC North. They swept the Steelers, Ravens, Raiders, and Chiefs. Burrow, in his second year, set franchise records for most passing yards and touchdowns in a single season, and he did it behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

The defense was one of the best in the league and all the free agents they signed are still under contract for the next few seasons. Trey Hendrickson was a pass-rushing machine. D.J. Reader was absolutely a beast. Logan Wilson proved to be one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. Chidobe Awuzie was one of the best corners this year.

The Bengals have the fourth-most cap space to spend before the upcoming season, and unlike the Rams, they have all their draft picks. What needs to be fixed is clear as day and if the Bengals do it, there’s no reason to think they won’t be in another Super Bowl sooner rather than later.

Like you’d see from any sorority girl’s Instagram, “don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy it happened.”

There is no game next week because the season is over. Instead, here’s a to-do list for the offseason.

  • Spend money on the offensive line.
  • Re-sign Jessie Bates III
  • Spend money on the offensive line.
  • Spend money on the offensive line.
  • Draft offensive linemen and defensive backs.
  • Spend money on the offensive line.
  • SPEND MONEY ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE.

Here are some random thoughts on the Super Bowl, and the season as a whole.

  • I HATED the play call on third-and-one in the final drive to hand the ball off to try to get a first down. Joe Burrow is the best player on the team. Don’t take the ball out of the best player's hands.
  • If the Bengals don’t fix the offensive line, Joe Burrow will either be the next Carson Palmer, refusing to play in Cincinnati, or the next Andrew Luck, refusing to allow his body to be destroyed any longer.
  • Speaking of Palmer... I don’t know what curse words I’m allowed to publish, but I have some I’d like to say.
  • The offensive line did a good job keeping Burrow clean over the majority of the first half, but as soon as the Rams figured out how to get Aaron Donald one-on-one by sending Von Miller inside, the dam broke. It was only a matter of time before it happened. Unfortunately, it stopped the Bengals from scoring any points over their final five drives of the game. They had not gone five drives without scoring all season. You can’t do that in a game and expect to win.
  • Tee Higgins absolutely got away with offensive pass interference on the first play of the second half when he pulled Jalen Ramsey’s face mask while the ball was in the air. Yes, the refs missed a couple calls, and the holding call on Wilson was terrible, but they missed that call as well.
  • Eli Apple probably played the best football of his career for the Bengals this year, especially in the second half of the season. The idea that he would be covering Kupp one-on-one with no help when the game is on the line, and everyone and their mother knew where Stafford was going to throw the ball is crazy to me.
  • Taylor has earned himself a large extension as head coach, as have the coordinators and assistant coaches.
  • When Burrow went down with what appeared to be another knee injury, my heart leapt out of my chest. Good thing the kid’s tough.
  • It was a fun season. Thank you very much to the CJ staff for allowing me to return to write about it every week, and thank you to the loyal CJ readers for perusing my weekly column. I hope you enjoyed reading them was much as I enjoyed writing them.

Until next season.

Who Dey!