The Rundown: Week 16

Observations from the Bengals 13-10 win over the dreaded Steelers…

-And on this Twenty-Third day of December, in the year of the Mayans flawed postulation of ceased global existence, the skies opened up and provided an unimpeded path through the uprights for Josh Brown of the Special Teams to drive his kick, securing a consecutive playoff berth for the Cincinnati Bengals, the first occurrence since the days of Thriller. On this day, all that had previously been known was cast aside; all that was darkness was now basking amongst the light. On this day, the Curse of Bengaldom was squashed—like Ben Roethlisberger between Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry—if only for a moment. Faith was employed where previously absent.

-December 23rd. Happy Festivus, Bengals fans.

-More on the franchise’s changing fortunes later in the week. But for now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what the Bengals were able to accomplish this past Sunday. In a low-scoring, defensive slugfest (on the road) against a team the Bengals have long suffered to overcome, with playoff fates on the line and far more at stake psychologically for the team and its fans, the Cincinnati Bengals won a game by outlasting and out-toughing one of the league’s toughest squads. Yes, it was an ugly game. And yes, the Steelers are not a Super Bowl-caliber team this year. But they are also not a playoff-caliber team this year, due largely to the efforts of the men in stripes on Sunday. This was a game and situation in which the Bengals have consistently failed to triumph. This time, that wasn’t the case. And even though the performance and result were not impressive, the overall impact was.

-Leon Hall, who I feel has been underrated all year (and through much of his career), made a huge play on his pick-six in the first quarter, providing the Bengals only touchdown of the day. Geno Atkins was a beast amongst feeble humans (again), setting the tone for a defense that swallowed the Steelers whole. Andrew Whitworth was a rock at left tackle. Reggie Nelson was clutch when Big Ben wasn’t. AJ Green and Andy Dalton both had their share of stumbles over the course of the contest, but they came up aces when it was needed most, their 21-yard connection on the final drive setting up the winning score. Josh Brown likely earned himself a full-time job.

-It wasn’t all glitter and rainbows. The run game was ghastly. There were the aforementioned stumbles by AJ and Andy. Jason Allen’s penalty on the electrifying Pacman Jones punt return confirmed that Allen is in fact committing felonious robbery from the franchise in the form of collecting his weekly paychecks. And for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Marvin Lewis was doing on Sunday. Three separate scenarios: he went for it on fourth-and-22 while in field goal range, attempted a 56-yard field goal that had as much a chance of converting as I do of wooing Mila Kunis, and then punted into the endzone on a fourth-and-short just past midfield with a minute left in the game. Forget how ridiculous some of those choices were. The lack of consistency is what really scares me. It’s like he was spinning a magic wheel of dumb decisions. (The guys at Football Outsiders felt the same way.) Adam Flango and I joked earlier last week that the least incompetent team would win on Sunday. Turns out, we weren’t wrong.

-Alas, all is well that ends in a playoff spot. The Bengals have plenty of holes to fill and areas where they can improve. But for the first time since Michael Jackson was prancing through a cemetery in a red leather jacket, the franchise will spend a second consecutive postseason as one of only 12 teams with a shot at winning the title. It’s a Festivus miracle.

Things I liked: The defense, Andy & AJ in the clutch, Josh Brown. 

Things I didn’t like: Seems inappropriate this week, no? Oh, and Brandon Tate.

Parting Thought: See first paragraph.

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