The Cincinnati Bengals won’t be in the playoffs this year, which is a shame for all NFL fans.
But the team remained competitive down until the very end.
What did we learn from the 25-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17?
Jake Browning learns quickly
Talk about a turnaround. Browning had his worst outing of his short career against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. He was discombobulated by their pass rush and falling behind in Pittsburgh.
But the QB came back and looked as sharp as ever and made big-time throws against the Kansas City Chiefs with everything on the line. He returned to his more conservative throwing style and took what was there, like he did during the three-game win streak.
Most emblematic of Browning’s no fear mentality was a 23-yard completion to Tyler Boyd on 4th and 18 with under two minutes left.
Where Browning needs to improve is in moving in the pocket early when the pass rush gets to him. While a lot of the blame falls on the o-line, Browning also failed to do anything to avoid sacks on the Bengals’ final drive, when he was sacked four times on five plays.
The one sack he avoided was that perfect 4th and 18 throw, which just goes to show he can make plays when he is upright.
This team never gave up
Ja’Marr Chase played with a separated shoulder. Tee Higgins injured his hamstring but came back to play, even though he’s going into a contract year.
Joe Mixon, a seventh year veteran who’s had more than his share of carries, ran like his life depended on it.
Browning, who’s getting paid the league minimum, sacrificed his body on his way into the endzone for a touchdown.
And Trey Hendrickson clawed his way to Patrick Mahomes to force a fumble in the second quarter.
This game had a playoff feel, even though the rest of the world gave up on the Joe Burrow-less Bengals right after he was injured in Week 11 against the Baltimore Ravens.
That’s a testament to how Zac Taylor has these players believing in themselves.
The secondary needs to improve quickly
Cam Taylor-Britt is a great piece, and it was his first game back from an ankle injury. But he can’t stop the Chiefs on his own.
And that was more than clear on a 67-yard completion to Rashee Rice, the longest pass play of the season for Kansas City.
Chidobe Awuzie hasn’t looked the same. And D.J. Turner has great speed, but it’s yet to be determined if he can be a top corner.
Meanwhile, the safeties have not played at nearly the level that Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell did. Bates was the security blanket who patrolled the middle of the field and made those chunk plays so rare.
Remember, Lou Anarumo was the defensive backs coach for the New York Giants before he was hired to be the Bengals’ defensive coordinator. And the safety position was what made his defenses work in 2021 and 2022.
Dax Hill and Jordan Battle could grow to be as effective as the guys the Bengals lost. But if they don’t, it’s unlikely Cincinnati will be able to win against the top quarterbacks in the league.