It's an odd feeling when a team experiences a tie. While it surpasses the emotions that come with losing, there is almost a sentiment that seems akin to being cheated. All the hours of preparation and there isn't a victor--almost like you spent four hours working to achieve a goal and the result tells you that your effort didn't matter.
That's why I'm personally not the biggest soccer fan. Football and futbol require its players to physically and mentally drain themselves by running around for hours. If it's grueling to see these athletes give it their all and see no winner as a fan, imagine what it feels like as the one actually participating in the sport.
Truth be told, there were quite a few positives in the Bengals' tie with the Panthers on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the disheartening thing if you're a Cincinnati fan, is that there just might be as many, if not more negatives. After shooting out to a dominant 3-0 start, the Bengals are reeling with a bad loss and a tie in back-to-back weeks. While Carolina is a solid team and went to the playoffs last season, they were manhandled by divisional foes in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. If one was inclined to use this game as a litmus test for the Bengals against the AFC North, it would likely lead to massive confusion.
Andy Dalton: Yes, he had two interceptions that were poor throws and yes he had a shaky drive toward the end of regulation with another near pick and a missed throw to Dane Sanzenbacher. However, Dalton was pinpoint accurate throughout most of the rest of the day, finishing 33 of 43 with 323 yards and two touchdowns. He continuously led the team on go-ahead and/or comeback drives on the day and had his offense clicking at a 62 percent efficiency rate on third down conversion tries.
Mohamed Sanu: The third-year man has grown up big time in 2014. He's had the onus on him to step up with injuries to other weapons on offense and answered the call. Sanu set career highs on Sunday in receptions with ten and yards with 120 through the air. The spectacular touchdown grab down the sideline was only overshadowed by the circus 16-yarder he had to put the Bengals ahead in the final minutes of regulation.
Giovani Bernard And Jeremy Hill: The offense was clicking with the two backs on Sunday. Most of Bernard's 137 yards on the ground came via a dazzling 89-yard touchdown run and while Hill's stat line wasn't overly impressive, he did have a critical score and another would-have-been that was wiped out by a bogus holding call. Hill's "Ickey Shuffle" was also a highlight of the day.
The Redemption Of Brandon Tate and Jermaine Gresham: These two had miserable showings on Sunday night versus the Patriots, but rebounded nicely against Carolina. Yes, Gresham had a familiar sight in the way of penalties, but he also had his best statistical game of the season with six catches for 68 yards. Tate filled in nicely with four catches for 38 yards, a touchdown through the air and nine yards on an end around.
Reggie Nelson: The rangy safety was one of the few defensive players who showed up on Sunday. He led the team in tackles with 11 total, had an interception and a tackle for loss. When the defense needs a big play, Nelson is often the player to deliver it.
Adam Jones' Versatile Play: "Pacman" had the biggest plays of the game, in terms of sheer turning of the tide. The Bengals were down by a touchdown with just over four minutes to play and Jones took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to the Panthers 3-yard line, leading to a Hill touchdown and tying the game. On the responding drive, he also knocked away a would-be touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone, forcing the Panthers to kick a field goal to send it to overtime.
Third-Down Efficiency On Offense: I mentioned it above, but it was great to see the Bengals' offense picking up clutch first downs. It happened more than 60 percent of the time, which was a welcomed sight for a team ranking last in that category going into Sunday.
Pass Protection: Though he was hit and pressured a couple of times, Dalton was effective because the offensive line didn't give up a sack again this week. It is a combination of line talent and a quick-passing scheme that allow this to happen.
Mike Nugent's Overtime Miss: The kick itself was awful for one so make-able. It wasn't even close. The reason why Nugent and the kick weren't placed in "the ugly" category was because of his performance through the four hours that preceded those five seconds. He was 4/4 on extra points and made his other three field goal attempts, one being the go-ahead kick with just over two minutes to play. Unfortunately, it's that last miss that will be remembered the most, as it was truly a Bengal-esque moment.
The Inability To Stop The Read-Option On Defense: The Bengals had issues with this in Robert Griffin III's rookie season and it reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Cam Newton can be a beast when he wants to be, but allowing over 100 yards rushing and nearly 300 yards passing by him is unacceptable for this defense.
No Sacks: The Bengals' defensive unit once prided itself on pressuring and sacking the opposing quarterback. In the past two weeks, they've combined for one sack and it no coincidence that they haven't won either game. The defensive line push is minimal (more on that later) and blitzing wasn't working. When the defense had Newton in their grasp, they let him wriggle loose and make a play--that happened at least two or three times.
The Penalties: When a team has 13 penalties and almost 120 yards on them, it makes it very difficult for them to win the game. That's what happened on Sunday and they came in almost every variety and size. Holding, pass interference and illegal motion were just a few. Many of them were back-breakers that extended Panthers' drives after the defense looked like they had a stop. The Bengals came in as one of the least-penalized teams in the league, but weren't anywhere near that type of team on Sunday.
The Referees: Speaking of penalties, there were 21 of them called between both teams. Carl Cheffers' group came into Week Six as one that called the most penalties in the league and they didn't disappoint. The crew often looked disheveled and needed conferences on certain calls, while other flags were questionable at best. Some felt that the two personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict were ticky-tack and the Andre Smith hold that negated a huge touchdown toward the end of regulation raised eyebrows. We are never one to blame a loss on referees, but the zebras didn't make it easy on Cincinnati at all on Sunday.
Adam Jones' Post-game Remarks: Jones had two gigantic plays to help the Bengals stay alive in this game, but he threw his teammate under the bus pretty badly right after the game ended. He isn't necessarily wrong for having those thoughts, but to express them to the media doesn't look good for locker room cohesion. Furthermore, the defensive unit he is a part of allowed 431 yards and 37 points. There is and was plenty of blame to go around.
Vontaze Burfict's Targeting Of Panthers Players' Ankles: The inner Arizona State Sun Devil that resides within No.55 finally made a showing at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday. Aside from the two personal foul penalties, Burfict was caught on film twisting the ankles of both Newton and tight end Greg Olsen. Both were known to have issues there and Burfict specifically targeted them. That doesn't give the most glowing of reputations around the league.
The Defensive Line: It's bad. Really bad. Aside from just a couple of pressures from Geno Atkins to feel good about, they got pushed around. They had zero sacks, looked confused on the read-option and were constantly getting pushed back off of the line of scrimmage. The few times that they had Newton in their grasp for a drive-changing sack, he got loose. They are getting no pressure without the blitzing of other defenders and have been gashed in multiple phases of the game. The secondary hasn't been doing its part the past couple of weeks, but their play usually coincides with the play up front.
The Week-After Response: Marvin Lewis addressed his entire team and subsequently its captains about responding after a bad loss. He wanted the Bengals to employ New England's mindset, play angry at home and really take it to the Panthers. That didn't happen. The offense played well for the most part, but in the clutch, game-grabbing moments, the team folded yet again. It's unfortunate, especially as they're set to face two teams playing at a high level over the next two weeks in Indianapolis and Baltimore.