A riddle for you: what happens when a team announces a coaching change less than two hours before a game?
That question lacks key pieces of context, and the result may not be simply a reflection of that. But knowing that just happened to the Bengals – already a team in dismal straits – their game’s result shouldn’t be shocking. It was hard to imagine the team looking nearly as bad as they did against the Bears last week. It would’ve been inconceivable to imagine a team looking that bad for two weeks straight without eventually making wholesale changes.
Yet, here we are. The team looked that bad for two weeks straight, and wholesale changes are already confirmed to be inbound. Marvin Lewis, the head coach in Cincinnati since 2003, and the Bengals organization have mutually agreed to part ways. This won’t affect his status with the team for the last two games, but honestly, who cares? This is a move that clearly indicates the Bengals have begun their focus on next season. The few fans that haven’t yet moved on as well will follow suit.
With the state of the organization, the depleted roster, and the fans, these last two games are essentially preseason games. After that, Cincinnati will be on to a much-needed new era of football.
Quick Notes from Sunday’s Action:
1.) Obligatory note about the quarterbacks: Andy Dalton threw 22 passes; the Vikings’ Case Keenum threw 23. Dalton completed 11, Keenum completed 20. Dalton threw two picks without a touchdown, Keenum threw two touchdowns without a pick.
A stark contrast given a similar raw sample size, but neither quarterback was the star of the show anyway. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who hasn’t seen a regular season snap since 2015, made a surprise appearance in the fourth quarter. The crowd gave an overwhelming standing ovation, and the moment was clearly emotional for several members of the team. In such a difficult game to watch, fans on both sides who follow the league at least had that moment. Sympathy for Bridgewater’s story isn’t exclusive to the Vikings’ fandom.
2.) Latavius Murray lead the Vikings in carries (20), totaling 76 yards and a touchdown. Jerick McKinnon added 16 touches between carries and receptions, for a combined 138 yards. The Vikings offense ran through them, over a cast of backup linebackers unable to oppose them (even before Vincent Rey left).
The Bengals offense, on the other hand, didn’t run. Giovani Bernard found 30 yards on 14 carries. Josh Malone managed to find four yards on a single botched end-around attempt. Brian Hill came in to contribute a whopping twelve yards on five carries. By the end of the whole mess, the booth was talking about Jarveon Williams being promoted from the practice squad. That’s how you know it’s preseason football.
3.) Back to quarterbacks – the other way you know it’s preseason football is when both teams play their backup signal-callers. Bridgewater was in for sentimental reasons in addition to practical ones, but by the end the Bengals had A.J. McCarron on the field as well. The fourth-year backup oversaw the Bengals’ lone scoring drive, but went 3/6 passing for 19 yards, not scoring himself. Given that the drive started from well within field goal range after a turnover, nothing about it is particularly impressive. Just spares the Bengals from having a goose egg in the final score sheet.
Bridgewater only threw two passes in the game – both were incomplete, one was the interception that started that drive. The whole thing may as well have been an early Christmas present from Mike Zimmer to Marvin Lewis.
4.) The defense at least, for how long it was on the field and accounting for injuries, didn’t play poorly. The linebackers couldn’t stop McKinnon, but the front end put up a pass rush and the back end covered well. Geno Atkins recorded two sacks up front, padding his stats on an already-impressive year. Adam Thielen, who’s had an incredible year so far, recorded three catches for 30 yards and a long of 21. Stefon Diggs, a pretty solid second banana, recorded as many yards on five catches.
There’s a chicken-and-egg thing at work here, for sure – why would a team attempt X when Y works? Were the Vikings scared to test William Jackson’s coverage downfield, or were they content to win easily without trying?
Regardless of the answer, it’s hard to hold the end result against Jackson. For many Bengals fans who wanted to watch their effectively-rookie phenom against top competition, this game wasn’t bad. That’s the point of preseason football anyway, isn’t it?