We could rail against the ineptitude of the clock-watching officials, who inexplicably denied the Bengals a last second field goal in the first half by failing in their one job, i.e. to watch the clock correctly. Indeed, I’m still awaiting an explanation as to why this wasn’t reviewable. A lot of sports happen in the moment, fast, sometimes subjective, a judgment call, and many of these things are reviewable by NFL referees. Why, then, a mathematically certain fact (the clock has a second left on it, look!) isn’t is beyond me.
We could be outraged by a game-changing punt return by Josh Cribbs that the Bengals allowed because they, like everyone else watching, knew he’d called a fair catch. Had this game involved a team from the NFC East then we’d have had thousands of replays airing by the time we dragged ourselves miserable home. As it is, nobody mentioned it, and perhaps that’s for the best.
We could mumble about lost opportunities, the fact that we did some things well, some things not so well and that we need to get better in all three phrases and that we’ll learn from it for the umpeenth time running. But then, we’re not all Marvin Lewis.
Or, we could be honest. This supposed “Battle of Ohio” featured two utterly inpet defenses, such that the biggest threat to QBs Andy Dalton and Brandon Wheedon was exposure to too much UV. Furthermore, it represented the Bengals’ promising start vanishing toothlessly into 3-3 mediocrity. The Browns are the perpetual loser of the AFC North and watching them awkwardly dismantle the insipid Bengals (supposedly a Play Off contender) over the second half felt like being beaten up by the greasy kid at school who listens to Skunk Anansi and dribbles when female teachers look him in the eye.
The Bengals secondary, stacked with SEVEN first round picks, has totaled ONE interceptioover four games, four of those against rookie QBs, another against Blaine Gabbert. Imagine how they will fair against the five combined Super Bowls of the Manning Bros and Big Fat Ben in the three weeks. The Bengals supposed running game, “upgraded” with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his invincibility against the fumble has as many fumbles as he does touchdowns and averages a miserable 3.2 yards per carry. Against the Browns he resembles a moth banging into a lightbulb, again and again, pointless, sad and dispiriting.
Carrying a comfortable lead into the second half the Bengals, as they have done continually under Marvin Lewis, simply decided to ignore the third quarter, so that when the previously useless Browns suddenly notched 21 points at the start of the fourth, to add to their unanswered 6 in the third, they found themselves in a hole they could not climb out of. Compounding this, was that, with only five minutes left on the clock, we suddenly remembered we have arguably the best receiver in the NFL and started playing like we cared. Despite the fact the Joe Haden spent most of the game doing the sorts of things to A.J.Green that posters on the subway tell you you should report (“a crowded subway is no excuse!”) he still managed to grab two scores, but it was too little too late.
Where is the fight that this team had last year? Why, up against inept teams (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami) can we never put our collective boot on the throat? What happened to Jay Gruden’s imagination, the imagination we fell in love with in the Washington game? Three weeks ago we had rookie receivers throwing touchdown bombs and were going for fake field goals for no reason other than it seemed cool (and indeed it was). Now the first 55 minutes consist of rush for two yards, rush for two yards, dropped pass under pressure, punt. What happened to Mike Zimmer’s defense period?! Why, every single third quarter over the past five years do Marvin Lewis’ team come out sluggish, staid, boring? Our scores in the last four third quarters we’ve played – 0,0,0,0. What’s in their half-time Gatorade, heavy cream? Nyquil?
Every reasonably fan looked at our unbalanced schedules and said that we had to be headed into the Steelers Sunday night game 5-1, worst case 4-2. Well here we go, on the back of losses to the mighty Ryan “I’m actually a wide receiver” Tannehill and Brandon “I have to keep my helmet on because even without sunlight I look dangerously like a tomato” Wheedon, facing an angry Steelers team in prime time, with us Bengals fans more nervous than the new puppy at the Vick household.
Perhaps all this is a big ploy to lull the Steelers into a false sense of security. I hope so. Because the Bengals have only one option. No more blaming Chad OchoCinco, or Carson Palmer, or T.O. They have enough problems of their own (principally with finding employment) This team must start winning against good teams, and it must start now. It must starting acting like the third quarter matters. It must start hounding the opposition QB, it must start creating turnovers, it must get creative, it must get tough, it must go for the kill and it must, must, must…win.
Final Score: Bengals 24 Browns 34
Man Of The Match: Though Cedric Peerman put some spark into the fourth quarter offense, and Geno Atkins had his routine solid day’s work, not to mention Jermaine Gresham finally scoring the kind of muscular touchdown we’d expected from him (at least until he, like the rest of the Binns and Tate, started playing like the ball was made out of soap), the only viable candidate is A.J. Green. Another 100 yard-plus display, another couple of touchdowns. Why, when we’re struggling, not just throw him the ball on every play?