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The good, the bad and the ugly in the Bengals’ 34-23 win over Buccaneers

The afternoon started off hideous, but it ended beautifully.

Another week, another trademark win for the Cincinnati Bengals.

This time, it was Tom Brady who bore the brunt of the orange and black, letting go of a big 17-point lead.

Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ victory over the Buccaneers in Week 15.

The good

17-0 is the new 28-3:

Matt Ryan’s solid pro career is marred by his Falcons’ inexplicable Super Bowl loss to Tom Brady’s Patriots. The very simple “28-3” is often used as a snapback from New England fans when if they happen to catch flak on the rare occasions.

But, on Sunday, Joe Burrow gave Brady a bit of a taste of his own medicine. Using short fields thanks to four turnovers by the defense, Burrow tossed four second-half touchdowns to unleash an avalanche of a comeback on the G.O.A.T.

Of course, it wasn’t as high-profile of a game as Super Bowl LI, but it did end an unbelievable stat Brady held for his career. Before the Bengals came pouncing back, Twelve was 89-0 when holding a 17-point lead in any pro contest.

A metaphorical passing of the baton:

Speaking of which, one of the storylines coming from this clash was Burrow vs. Brady and how Cincinnati’s elite quarterback exhibits quite of few similarities to that of the G.O.A.T. Initially, it looked like the old dog was going to put the youngin’ in his proper place and have a symbolic “not yet” type of game.

Instead, Burrow marched his team to a win, not just grabbing the metaphorical baton from Brady, but rather tearing it from the G.O.A.T.’s vice-grip on it. Maybe we’re being a bit dramatic, but this was a trademark win, and it did show signs of the two quarterbacks’ careers trending in different directions...for now.

Halftime adjustments:

Some people believe this is an actual thing that exists, while others scoff at the notion that big changes can be made in a 13-minute window. This becomes especially puzzling when one factors in the team preparing an entire week (sometimes longer) with specific game plans of attack towards the opposition.

Still, the prevailing opinion is that halftime adjustments exist to some degree, just likely not to the level of tossing out an entire week’s game plan and starting from scratch. Focusing in on what has worked to the halfway point and what the opposition has showed a team definitely figures into the next two quarters.

When you look at the Bengals this year, particularly on defense, they just hit another gear. They haven’t been allowing yards or scores and have kept the team in games throughout the whole year. Even Tee Higgins, who we recently spoke with on our podcast, noted how the offense has been attempting to respond to all of the opportunities the defense has provided them this year.

This past Sunday was case in point, as evidenced by the four turnovers and subsequent offensive touchdowns in the final two quarters. It was especially impressive, given how the Bengals plodded through the first half.

Speaking of the defense...:

When you get Tom Brady to commit four turnovers in any game, that’s an incredible feat. It’s seems like a nearly-impossible thought when Brady’s Bucs had their backs against the wall with playoff implications and having the opposition on his home turf.

Yet, there’s Lou Anarumo for you. Brady sliced-and-diced the Bengals in the first two quarters, but Anarumo’s group swarmed and frustrated Tampa Bay’s offense, even with more high-profile players leaving the contest with injury.

The Buccaneers were held to under four yards per carry running the ball, while being held to just a lone, garbage time touchdown in the final two quarters. Did we mention Cincinnati’s defense forced four turnovers?

Some elements of the offensive line:

Even though La’el Collins struggled with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka on Sunday (a 47.8 PFF pass block grade), the line put up some respectable scores across the board. Jonah Williams had a 79.5 PFF pass block score, while Alex Cappa giving a strong performance against his former team with a 68.6 overall score and 87.8 on the pass block front.

Ted Karras and Cordell Volson were also in the high 60s in PFF pass block metrics, while both running backs and Mitchell Wilcox all scoring well in supplemental pass protection.

Special teams superheroes:

Evan McPherson was perfect on the day with eight total points (two field goals, two extra points), while Drue Chrisman had two of his four punts land inside the Bucs’ 20-yard line. One of those was a “coffin corner” kick that was placed at the Tampa Bay 2-yard line and led to a Buccaneers three-and-out.

Trayveon Williams added in a nice little 28-yard kick return and the unit was all over the Giovani Bernard fake punt debacle. Darrin Simmons’ group also allowed just 16 yards per kickoff return and seven yards per punt return on Sunday.

The bad

The run game:

Sometimes every single element in a game just doesn’t click. Such is the case with the run game against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers put forth their best defensive effort of the year on Sunday, as the Bengals ran for just 53 yards on 21 carries (2.5 yards per carry).

It was especially troubling that Burrow had the long gain of the day and that it was only 10 yards. While Joe Mixon participated relatively well in the passing game (five catches for 33 yards), he and Samaje Perine combined for just 45 rushing yards on the day.

Short fields and effective passing caused some of the statistical shortcomings, but there wasn’t much there for them, either.

Predictably, the pass rush struggled a bit:

Brady was hit seven times and the Bengals got to him once, but that was on a Logan Wilson blitz. The good news was that that play was disastrous for Tampa Bay, netting a fumble recovery for Cincinnati.

Still, with Trey Hendrickson out nursing a wrist injury and Sam Hubbard leaving early because of a calf issue, the young rotational players behind them couldn’t find consistent pressure routes. That will need to improve in the next few weeks, as it sounds like both of the star edge defenders will be out to varying degrees of time.

The ugly

The first half:

Cincinnati’s output in the first two quarters was borderline unwatchable football. On defense, Mike Evans was having a field day, netting more receiving yards by himself than the Bengals’ offense had altogether in the first half. It was vintage Brady early on, as he sliced-and-diced the short and intermediate areas of the field to get a 17-3 advantage at the midway point.

On offense, nothing much was working. Cincinnati moved the ball a little bit on their initial drive, only to see it end with one of those frustrating tipped passes for an interception. The Bengals didn’t do anything until hurry-up mode right before the half netted three points.

It all worked out in their favor in the end, but this was the formula for a very familiar Brady outcome. While the Bengals seem to continually overcome these slow starts against elite teams and quarterbacks, they will need to buck this trend with the postseason on the horizon.

The injuries...again:

Seeing more starters go down on defense again was definitely cringe-worthy. Losing Hubbard for a while is not good news, as he is a great all-around edge defender playing well against both the pass and run.

Cam Taylor-Britt sounds like he may be back this week after a scary-looking shoulder issue, but Cincinnati can’t afford much attrition at that position, either. Cincinnati is admirably finding ways to overcome these injuries and win games, but they need to get healthy with the postseason around the corner.