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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals vs. Rams in Super Bowl LVI

The team did enough in a couple of phases to actually pull out their first Super Bowl win. However, familiar struggles led to familiar heartbreak.

Unfortunately, another tough chapter was written in the Cincinnati Bengals’ history book. The team’s magical season once again ended in heartbreak, as they lost in last-minute fashion to the Rams.

There was a lot to like by Cincinnati in this one, but some major, familiar failures ended up costing them. Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ loss in Super Bowl LVI.

The good

The wide receivers:

“The ‘Migos” were outstanding on Sunday. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey was credited with allowing 160 yards (the most in his career), while teaming up to cover both Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.

Chase nearly had a 100-yard performance, while Higgins did have one with two touchdown catches. Tyler Boyd also chipped in with five catches for 48 yards—two of which went for first down conversions.

Joe Burrow gutting out a solid performance:

The Bengals’ quarterback once again had a quarterback rating of over 100 and played turnover-free ball, despite taking seven sacks and 11 hits and countless pressures. Burrow threw for 263 yards and a score on a 67% completion rate.

The former No. 1 overall pick claimed the Comeback Player of the Year Award, led the team to a Super Bowl and was the No. 1-rated passer on the season by Pro Football Focus standards. All of this after coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and in only his second year in the NFL.

All levels of the defense:

The team won the turnover battle (plus-two, with two interceptions), had two sacks of Matthew Stafford and forced six punts. Additionally, no Rams receiver went over 100 receiving yards (yes, we know Odell Beckham, Jr. left the game early) and against an explosive Rams offense, that’s a formula for success.

Every major player on the defensive line (Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Sam Hubbard and B.J. Hill) had at least one impactful play, while Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt were big contributors in holding Los Angeles to just 43 rushing yards and a 1.9 yards-per-carry average. In fact, NextGen stats had the Rams at roughly minus-42 rush yards over expectation for that time in the game.

And, of course, Chidobe Awuzie and Jessie Bates III nabbed two big interceptions off of Stafford. It was an all-around unit effort that kept the game manageable for four quarters.

A large contingent of special teams:

Evan McPherson continued his postseason run of perfection, nailing two field goals and both extra points in the game. His performance over the past four games and really, the entire season can’t be overstated in its importance.

Meanwhile, Trent Taylor had two nice punt returns with one 20-yarder jump-starting the Bengals’ first scoring drive. Darrin Simmons remains one of the tops in the NFL, as far as special teams coordinators go.

The bad

Joe Mixon on the bench in critical short-yardage situations:

The questions on some of the offensive in-game decisions by Zac Taylor, Brian Callahan and Co. largely centered around the why’s of No. 28 being on the bench in a few short-yardage situations.

The first example came on a third-down no-gain from Samaje Perine on the team’s opening drive, wherein they gave up the football on downs at the Rams’ 49-yard line. Then, on the final drive (also one where the team gave the ball up on downs), Mixon was on the bench for both a 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1. Perine failed to convert on another carry on the former play.

Now, this isn’t an indictment on Perine—he’s come up with a number of clutch plays since he joined the team back in 2019. One of them as recent as his huge touchdown reception versus the Chiefs in the AFC Championship win. And, yes, Perine is often in on third-down situations, so there’s not much of a surprise on that front.

Still, with Perine netting zero yards on two important carries and Mixon, carrying that big contract from an offseason ago, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on the day, you’d think he’d get the nod late in the game. Maybe it would have yielded similar results, but we’ll never truly know.

Officiating inconsistencies:

Disclaimer: We’re not blaming the loss by the Bengals on the referees. However, what is called into question on this week’s game is the lack of consistency with certain calls.

Non-called false starts and offsides penalties and, yes, even a potential offensive pass interference penalty (which was refuted postgame by head official Ron Torbert) were all part of the questionable work by the crew. For reference, there were three penalties called on both teams at halftime, while four penalties were called in the last six plays of the Rams’ game-winning drive.

Inability to fully capitalize on momentum shifts:

This is where we are partially placing blame. As mentioned, Cincinnati had two turnovers, but only netted three points off of them. Now, one of those was an interception in the end zone with a penalty forcing it to start at the 10-yard line, but those are still opportunities to change the course of a game.

There is another specific time period within the game we’ll expand on later, but the point remains. Cincinnati made plays, fought hard and kept the game tight, but failed in truly getting a stranglehold on it.

The ugly

10:15, third quarter through 6:20, fourth quarter:

This is the time period in which we referred to above. After scoring a touchdown and field goal to start the second half, the Bengals’ offense absolutely fell on its face for the subsequent five drives.

Cincinnati’s defense held the Rams’ offense to a field goal and three punts at this critical juncture and could get any momentum going. it was so bad that the first two Bengals’ drives in this stretch accounted for six plays for two net yards.

The red zone/overall touchdown conversion issues:

This was an issue all postseason for the Bengals. They were able to navigate these issues throughout the first three games and overcome it, but not so much on Sunday.

Cincinnati scored just seven touchdowns against 14 field goals in four games. In the red zone on Sunday, the Bengals were just 1-for-3 in touchdown conversions. It was obviously a major facet in the conclusion of the contest.

Predictably, the offensive line:

Most of the woes on Sunday and throughout the entire season are unfortunately at the feet of the offensive line. And, no, before you go there: Penei Sewell would not have netted the Bengals a championship.

The Bengals’ offensive line actually did a decent job of staving off the Rams’ fierce pass-rush in the first two quarters, but utterly failed late in the game. Seven sacks were netted by L.A. on Sunday, and while we’ve seen Burrow “run into sacks” on occasion this year, these are cartoon-like numbers in a major statistical category.

Cincinnati allowed 19 sacks in its four postseason games (4.75 per-game average). After shoring up the defense and offensive skill position players the past two offseasons, this one absolutely must be about shoring up the offensive line.

If it isn’t, this championship window will shut rapidly.

Similar heartbreak in the biggest game in American sport:

The Bengals are 0-3 in “The Big Dance” and all three losses come with epic heartbreak. Whether it was missed opportunities or last-minute losses, the Bengals are still looking to find the Super Bowl formula.

Super Bowl XVI saw the Bengals roar back from a 20-0 halftime deficit, only to lose late, 26-21. This was on the heels of a goal line stand by the 49ers.

Of course, Super Bowl XXIII lives in infamy, as San Francisco beat the team again. Bengals fans still can’t say the name “John Taylor” without getting the dry heaves.

Then we have this one. Questions, missed opportunities, but an overall solid team effort saw the Bengals come up just short again. We’ll see if they can rebound and if this was indeed just a start to a potential dynasty, but they have work to do.

In the meantime, we’ll all have to chew on the sour taste of three Super Bowl losses by an average of four points per game.