The gameplan wasn't this.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham (back) and wide receiver A.J. Green (concussion) were added to a long-list of injuries that significantly impacted an offense that was already missing tight end Tyler Eifert, wide receiver Marvin Jones and even starting right tackle Andre Smith -- which required the signing of Eric Winston after Marshall Newhouse struggled as Smith's replacement.
Excuses, Josh. Excuses.
The end result is that Kevin Brock was Cincinnati's starting tight end with Brandon Tate and Mohamed Sanu starting at wide receiver. Backup running back and special teamer Rex Burkhead, who has 10 career games under his belt, played a handful of plays at wide receiver. Greg Little, who was inactive in five of the last seven games and Cobi Hamilton, who has never played a regular season game in his career, were the remaining weapons at Andy Dalton's disposal. It should be noted that Tate was the fifth or sixth receiver when the team developed the 53-man roster and Mohamed Sanu became the subject of milk cartons across the Queen City. Kevin Brock was signed after the team lost Alex Smith and Eifert.
Stop with your excuses, Josh.
That being said, Jeremy Hill was the focus of Cincinnati's game plan heading into Sunday's game. I mean... of course he was. This is a rookie who hit 100 yards rushing in five of the last nine games and fell five yards shy of Corey Dillon's single-season rookie record. Hill pounded 36 yards rushing in the first quarter on eight carries... and when you add Rex Burkhead's 23-yard reverse and Giovani Bernard six-yard run, the Bengals had already accumulated 65 yards rushing in the first quarter.
Unfortunately, Hill suffered a second quarter injury and spent the last three quarters with five carries and 11 yards rushing. It was a laundry list of "of course that happened."
"When you don't have any tight ends and you have to use linemen, now you make it obvious (it’s a run play) and they can roll to you even more because they're not really worried about (guard Mike) Pollak and (tackle Marshall) Newhouse catching passes," said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. "You're trying to knock them off and play high school football a little bit."
Excuses... or matter of fact?
Cincinnati had crawled to within three points of Indianapolis' lead after Mike Nugent's franchise-setting 57-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It was close. Cincinnati had the ball to open the second half... and fell apart with five consecutive punts, only one first down gained and a lost fumble with 2:56 remaining, sealing the win for Indianapolis.
Despite the unfortunate storm that derailed Cincinnati's postseason, the end result is that the Bengals lost 26-10 to the Indianapolis Colts. It's the fourth straight first-round exit for Cincinnati, the fifth in the last six games and the sixth time overall, murderously burying the tired postseason legacy of Marvin Lewis, who is at a loss to explain why this happens.
"It’s disappointing, but I don't know any other way," said head coach Marvin Lewis who tries to project optimism for 2015, the final year under contract. "Whenever the opportunity comes to build back up and get working and fight our way back through it."
More disappointing -- and this tends to be the theme every January -- is the defense who allowed 482 yards to Indianapolis. The postseason ineptitude this year was led by a nonexistent pass rush that Cincinnati financially invested heavily in, allowing Andrew Luck to pick apart Cincinnati with 376 yards passing on 31 completions. This mirrored the concern throughout the season with Geno Atkins coming off an ACL tear, Wallace Gilberry having an increased role, the team losing Michael Johnson and the ineffectiveness of Robert Geathers, Margus Hunt and Domata Peko as pass rushers.
"Extremely hard because Andrew Luck is a prototypical quarterback," said defensive end Wallace Gilberry when asked how difficult it was get into the backfield. "He’s going to make plays and make smart plays. We got to him a couple of times, but it did not rattle him. He honored the hit and lines up and got back in the center so he is one of those guys that you have to constantly get to him every play, but we were not able to do that today and again the scoreboard reflected that."
Coverage over the middle was especially painful, allowing Daniel Herron to haul in 10 completions for 85 yards passing -- his previous career high was five completions (Week 12) and 45 yards receiving (Week 14). Had T.Y. Hilton had not dropped so many passes throughout the course of the game, the scoring differential could have been more significant.
Blame goes everywhere