Power Rankings: Wild Card round

It’s not tragic, but it’s not good either.

That was what my eighth grade math teacher, Mr. Callahan, would always say when one of his students would fail to do their homework. He’s no doubt still saying it today, and likely said it to some podunk, Joe-everyday slob-like character (another one of his favorites).

But I still think about—and still use—that first line a lot, even today, long after I’ve forgotten anything related to math that I might have learned in his class. I thought about that line on Sunday, after the Bengals loss/implosion/embarrassment/failure at the hands of the Chargers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Three straight playoff seasons for Andy Dalton and the gang—this season the most impressive and encouraging of them all—each followed by three straight decisive first-round knockouts. This one was the least encouraging of them all.

I doubt the Bengals had much chance of making the Super Bowl. Dalton, even if he played well, was going to be the lesser of the two QBs in each potential matchup. The defense, despite recovering nicely down the backstretch of the season, was without it’s two best players and a few other contributors. And even if the Bengals did beat the Chargers in Cincinnati, they would have had to go into New England to face Tom Brady, with an improbable victory there most likely taking them to Denver to face Peyton Manning. So again, unlikely that they would have fulfilled any championship destiny had they beaten San Diego.

But we’ll never know anyways. And that’s the problem.

To the rankings…

1. Andy Dalton
Another epic yet not-at-all-unpredictable collapse on the big stage.

1. The Moment
Another epic yet not-at-all-unpredictable collapse on the big stage. It starts with Dalton, sure, and maybe it all just trickled down from there. But top to bottom, it was tough to find bright spots in the Bengals performance on Sunday. All year, the locker room was buzzing with quotes about how this team was different, how this season was different, how simply making the playoffs wasn’t the end goal, wasn’t good enough. The squad went undefeated at home, won the division, got an incredibly favorable matchup against a team they had beaten a month ago on the road AND even avoided the dreaded “early Saturday” playoff slot…and laid a big fat egg. Out-coached, out-played, everything. Barf.

2. Andy Dalton
For 12 months, the divisive, unpredictable QB1 heard the narrative about him. Regardless of how he played—incredible, putrid, someone in between—he knew that it all came down to how he performed in the postseason. He had choked twice before. If he wanted any shot at getting the media/fans/public (and possibly teammates?) off his back, he had to play well. Or at least not totally suck. And for the first half, that’s the direction things were headed. The worst play—Gio Bernard’s fumble—wasn’t on him, and the team came out of the locker room with the lead and the ball. Then the Chargers took a 14-7 lead, and Dalton committed three heinous turnovers on three straight possessions, cementing the lack of faith that every Bengals fan/pundit had either already voiced or were keeping a very close eye on. Final numbers:
29-51 (57 percent), 334 yards (6.5 ypa, a number coming in garbage time) 1 TD (first ever in the playoffs), 2 INTs & 1 fumble (for 7 total playoff turnovers), QB rating of 67, QBR of 14.2.

He merely fulfilled and perpetuated the narrative that followed him all season.

3. Giovani Bernard

Great season. Incredible, exhilarating player and talent. Seems like a great young kid. And honestly, minus his second-quarter goalline fumble and a second-half drop, he had a good game, racking up 118 total yards from scrimmage. Heck, even if he doesn’t fumble that dumpoff pass at the goalline, there’s no guarantee that he or the team would have scored a TD on that drive. For all we know, the Bengals could have been heading into halftime up 10-7 either way. But when we think back on this game—now and in the future—people will remember and mention and rue that fumble.

4. Marvin Jones

As I said, bright spots were few and far between. There were a few—BJGE, Rey Maualuga, and Jermaine Gresham, shockingly enough—but Marvin Jones was undoubtedly the brightest: 8 grabs, 130 yards, the only semblance of life for the most part. The cherry on top of the turd sundae.

5. Coordinators

It was made official this morning that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is off to Washington to be head coach of the Redskins, and it’s possible that Mike Zimmer could land with the Vikings or another squad in the near future. (Hue Jackson has already been all but confirmed as the Bengals new OC.) The playoff game certainly wasn’t the best showing for either coordinator, but particularly Gruden. He seemed to abandon the running game a bit too quickly, and the team has struggled to get AJ Green the ball enough in each of the past two postseason appearances. (Though to be fair, this may just be a product of Dalton’s performance more than anything else—Gruden just calls the plays, he doesn’t execute them.) Even with all of the good things Gruden accomplished in Cincy (top ten offense this season), both parties might be better off with him moving on to Washington. Zimmer leaving, however, would be a different discussion. But in relation to the postseason performance, even in spite of Dalton’s poor play, preparation becomes part of the conversation. It was noted the Chargers weren’t shocked by anything the Bengals did on offense, and Zimmer’s units have struggled against the run in playoff matchups. There are possible explanations for this—Dalton’s play prevented the Bengals from being unpredictable, getting a lead gives opponents more opportunity to run the ball—but it’s something to take note of. Either way, two fine coordinators might not be back next season, and in a way, that’s a good thing. The fact that other teams are coveting Bengals assistant coaches to lead their squads is somewhat mind-blowing.

The Upcoming Aftermath

Next week, I’ll have a season-ending Power Rankings piece up, as well as a look at what to do with the quarterback position moving forward. We’ll also have a rookie breakdown of Gio Bernard and Tyler Eifert coming in the near future.

The Immediate Aftermath

That’s what I tweeted about 15 minutes before kickoff on Sunday. And even when it became obvious by about 4 pm that a playoff win wasn’t going to happen this season, I didn’t feel any different about that tweet. I still don’t. The Bengals are not cursed. They are a football team with a streaky quarterback that plays terrible in postseason games. They are a franchise that has turned around a lot of the things that prevented them from winning a playoff game since the 1990 season; pretty much the only thing left is actually winning one of those games. It will happen…just not this year. Unfortunately, for Bengals fans and the city of Cincinnati, that is a major, major bummer.

It’s not tragic, but it’s not good either.

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