Well, that’s it. The Cincinnati Bengals lost their Week 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, and with wins by the Bills and Steelers, the Bengals' chances of playing after Week 18 are officially zero.
Here are some winners and losers.
Let it be known that when Jake Browning looked into the abyss, and the abyss looked back, he didn’t blink. There are few places harder to play than Arrowhead Stadium, and fewer quarterbacks harder to go head-to-head with than Patrick Mahomes.
That’s what Browning did, though. He finished the game completing 19 of his 33 passes for 197 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, and he did it while under constant pressure, taking six sacks.
Did he put the Bengals on his back and win the game a la Joe Burrow? No. Is he the reason the Bengals lost? Absolutely not.
Browning did everything the Bengals coaching staff could have asked for and then some.
Hendrickson didn’t take long to let his presence be known. Working against backup left tackle Wanya Morris, Hendrickson was able to strip the ball out of Mahomes’ hands as he tried to step up into the pocket. Sam Hubbard was able to recover the ball, and the Bengals offense was able to score a touchdown. It was all thanks to Hendrickson like it has been over and over again this season.
Also, if you were keeping count, that’s eight straight games with at least half a sack.
Bengals red zone defense
While the Bengals' defense struggled between the twenties, they locked down when their backs were up against the wall. The defense forced five straight field goals, including two from inside the 20-yard line. It might be the combination of the Chiefs not quite looking the same, and the Bengals defense getting desperate, but with a better offense, a bend-but-don’t-break defense can win a Super Bowl.
With this loss to the Chiefs, and wins by the Bills and Steelers on Sunday, the Bengals are officially eliminated from playoff contention in 2023. Once Joe Burrow went down in Week 12, I think most fans figured this would happen, but Browning and the offense rallied and made things interesting, which I think was more than any fan could ask for.
If they’re going to be good enough to almost make the playoffs without Burrow, think how good they can be next year when he comes back.
I understand that modern NFL analytics say that you should go for it on fourth-and-one when an offense stalls in a certain area on the field. That’s especially the case when playing an opponent as dangerous as the Chiefs.
Unfortunately, Zac Taylor’s playbook has one play for short-yardage situations, and that’s “Joe Mixon up the middle.” Fans know it, and the Chiefs knew it too. The Bengals offense got a defensive pass interference call that put them in a great position to take a two-score lead, but the drive stalled, and on fourth-and-one, Mixon got hit in the backfield, losing a few yards.
It’s a different game if the Bengals get a first down and score a touchdown on that drive.
Bengals run defense
While the Bengals running backs weren’t able to make some big game-breaking plays, Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco was. Without DJ Reader, the Bengals' defense continued to struggle when it came to stopping the run. Actually, even with Reader, stopping the run has been a struggle for Lou Anarumo’s defense in 2023.
The Chiefs averaged 12.8 yards per carry on Sunday.
Bengals ability to stop the big play
When the Chiefs got down into the red zone, the Bengals defense clamped down, but it was between the 20s when the whole field was open that the Bengals struggled to stop the big play. Not only did Pacheco have a few long carries, but the secondary gave up long passing plays to Rashee Rice, Justin Watson, and Pacheco, who combined for over 120 receiving yards on just three particular plays. If the Bengals defense could have limited the big plays they gave up, this game would have ended very differently. Unfortunately, that also has been an issue all season.
Just when Higgins looked like he was showing everyone in the NFL that he’s the guy and deserves to be paid as such. It seemed like it was going to be a perfect storm of a fully healthy Higgins and a healthy enough Chase (which is better than most receivers when they’re fully healthy), but it wasn’t meant to be. While Higgins came in a played, he was in and out of the blue tent with a hamstring issue.
It just wasn’t meant to be his year.
There was also this following the game.
Ja’Marr Chase was being heckled by a fan. He told the fan, “Come down here and say that.”— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) January 1, 2024
Then was encouraged to keep moving and did so peacefully.
(Right before this video) #Bengals pic.twitter.com/YUSGFlEpun
Not a good day for Chase.
It’s not just a problem in the Bengals game, and it’s not just the Bengals who were affected by bad officiating, but officiating is a problem. It has been a problem.
And just in case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, when a quarterback is hit as he’s throwing, you can’t call intentional grounding.
Also, when a defensive lineman’s helmet is over the line of scrimmage, that is a flag.
The NFL absolutely needs to get a hold of this issue, because it’s quickly getting out of hand.