clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tuesday Trenches: Closing Time

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

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

That was a tough one, no doubt about it.

The Cincinnati Bengals fell to the Chiefs in Arrowhead by a score of 23-20 in a game that mirrored the three other Bengals-Chiefs games over the last two seasons. The winning team won by a field goal and, with the 2022 regular-season game being the only exception, the Chiefs jumped out to an early lead, leaving the Bengals to claw their way back into the game in the second half.

Here are a couple of things that went right and a couple that didn’t.

“That’s a fact, Jack!”

I want to get this out of the way. The Bengals didn’t lose the game because the referees were bad. Don’t get me wrong, the referees were bad, but the Bengals put themselves in a situation where a blown call or a non-call could affect the outcome of the game, and that’s exactly what happened. That’s on them.

The simple truth is this: the Chiefs outplayed the Bengals in almost every aspect of the game. The offense couldn’t get the ball moving, the defense couldn’t make stops when they needed to and special teams didn’t do the team any favors either.

There definitely needs to be some conversation throughout the league on how they can help the referee situation, because it has been bad all season, and it was bad Sunday night.

The Thin Red Line

The AFC Championship came down to the Bengals’ offensive line and the inability to protect Joe Burrow. With Jonah Williams, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins out, the Chiefs’ defensive line, especially Chris Jones, went off. Jackson Carman, Max Scharping, and Hakeem Adeniji were completely outmatched.

Carman (64.7 PFF) allowed one hit and two hurries, Scharping (23.7) allowed two sacks, two hits, and five hurries, and Adeniji (38.0) allowed three sacks, one hit, and three hurries. It was a bad day to be a Bengals backup offensive lineman. While the backups played well in Buffalo, the injuries finally caught up to the Bengals.

Tyler, the Creator

So what do you do when you can’t block the defensive line and give your quarterback a clean pocket? You have to keep your tight end and running back in to make sure they pick up the slack, leaving the “big three” running routes. The issue with that is the “big three” quickly became the “big two” after slot receiver Tyler Boyd left the game with an injured thigh.

This allowed the Chiefs to double Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and leave Trenton Irwin one-on-one. Irwin wasn’t able to create much separation and the Bengals had to decide whether they’d like to protect Burrow or get someone open.

Despite it all.....

Even though the Bengals came into the game with three backup offensive linemen against the defense with the second most sacks in the 2022 season, and even though they lost Boyd early, and with all the missed and questionable calls, Joe Burrow and company almost pulled it off. The Bengals went into halftime only down one score, and considering how badly they were outplayed in the first half, that seemed like a win.

They were able to create some stops in the second half and the offense tied things up. With just two minutes left in the game, Burrow had the ball in his hands with a chance to take the lead. I’ll take that scenario 10 times out of 10 in the conference championship game.

This time, they just didn’t get it done.

To wrap things up, here are some random thoughts on the game.....

  • The Bengals are going to have to address the punter position this offseason. Dru Chrisman struggled on Sunday. His last punt of the game, which was also his most important, considering they were giving Patrick Mahomes the ball back with a chance to win the game, was a low line drive that was returned 29 yards and helped set up the Chiefs for a game-winning field goal.
  • The penalty on Joseph Ossai was absolutely a penalty and will be called 100 percent of the time. I feel bad for him. He was chasing Mahomes and just didn’t realize where he was on the field. He’s a talented young pass rusher with a bright future.
  • I do love how B.J. Hill was in the locker room defending Ossai.
  • Burrow’s two interceptions partially came from having to throw the ball before he wanted to.
  • The running game was non-existent on Sunday. Joe Mixon averaged 2.4 yards per carry, and while Samaje Perine averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he only got five carries.
  • Mixon didn’t have a great year on the ground. After rushing for a career-high 1205 yards in the 2021 season, he only had 814 yards on the ground in the 2022 regular season. He did more than he has as a receiver, but I’m not 100 percent sure he was worth his $8.45 million cap hit this year, and with extensions possibly coming up for Burrow, Higgins, and Logan Wilson, that might be something the Bengals want to take a look at.
  • Cam Taylor-Britt had a good game. He only allowed one reception on five targets for 13 yards and he made five tackles. He is definitely not afraid to hit either. He has been very good in run support.
  • Eli Apple had a decent game as well. He did allow four receptions on seven targets, but those four receptions only yielded 17 yards.
  • Mike Hilton struggled in coverage against the Chiefs. He gave up eight receptions on nine targets for 133 yards and a touchdown. However, much of what Hilton is paid to do is in the box in run support and as an extra pass rusher.
  • The Bengals weren’t able to pressure Mahomes very often. They only sacked him twice on the day, and he often had more than enough time to find an open receiver. While Hill and Trey Hendrickson didn’t log any sacks, they did combine for 10 hurries between the two of them. It just wasn’t enough.
  • Speaking of Mahomes, it was obvious that he wasn’t the same, but he was still more than capable of pulling some of that Mahomes magic that we’ve seen in the past.
  • Solely blaming the referees for the Bengals’ loss is like losing a basketball game by two and blaming the refs for a bad call when you missed 10 free throws.
  • Both defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are seeing interest in head coaching jobs. This is the curse all good teams have to deal with, they never get to keep their coordinators.

The Bengals season is over, and it’s completely fine to be unhappy and sad about it. It was a great ride. If you find yourself unable to cope with the fact they aren’t going to their second consecutive Super Bowl, here’s something to remember: We lost the AFC Championship game by three points. Think about that for a second, and then think about what it was like in the ‘90s if you were a fan then. Think about Carson Palmer’s injury in 2005. Think about the years where Palmer and Marvin Lewis and then Andy Dalton and Lewis couldn’t get it done in the first round of the playoffs. Now think about the last two seasons.

The Bengals proved the 2021 season wasn’t a fluke. They showed they belong in the annual conversation at the beginning of the year with the Chiefs, Bills, Eagles and a few select others. They showed the NFL they’re here to stay.

This is just the beginning.

You can catch the CJ post-game show with Anthony Cosenza and myself here.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

Finally, Tuesday Trenches will be expanded into the offseason this year. We’ll go through the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, the draft and free agency news together.

Keep your heads up, Bengals fans. There’s a lot to be grateful for.

Who Dey!