NFL fans experienced something this Sunday that they haven’t experienced this entire century – nay, this entire millennium. For the first time in 17 years – since the 1999 season – the Buffalo Bills franchise is going to the playoffs. With the Bengals victory over the Ravens in Week 17, the Bills now possess the 6th seed in the AFC.
In the grand scheme of the NFL, the Bengals victory accomplished little else. They officially finish the season with a 7-9 record, and now own the 12th pick in the NFL draft. Yet, when the final score came in and they were on top, the Bengals faithful still felt compelled to celebrate. Andy Dalton, down late, in a 4th-and-long situation from midfield, found a receiver downfield. Tyler Boyd, that same receiver, found the end zone. The Ravens, a divisional rival, would be barred from the playoffs based on this ending. It was the last regular season game of the 2017 season, and the ending was fittingly dramatic.
Marvin Lewis, the head coach of the Bengals reported by most to be coaching his last game, cracked a seemingly-rare smile.
For everyone outside of the Ravens flock, this was an exciting close to the 2017 regular season. In the NFL, which at the end of the day is in the entertainment business, that’s a valuable accomplishment. In the short term, the Bengals can, and should, be proud.
As for the long term? They’ll have time to worry about 2018 when that calendar year starts tomorrow.
Quick Notes from Sunday’s Action:
1.) In the last meeting between these teams, the Bengals failed to score on offense. That was something they managed to address on the opening drive this time around. After eight plays, during which 4:05 ran off the clock, Andy Dalton found Tyler Kroft for a touchdown from the one-yard line. Midway through the second quarter, a similar drive played out; nine plays, 3:58, Tyler Kroft scores from five yards out.
The Bengals were less than 30 seconds from entering the half up 17-3. That ultimately became 17-10, but that’s 17 points more than they had entering the half in Week 1.
2.) Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard showed up huge in that first drive. Mixon received three carries on that drive – he earned 34 yards on them. Bernard, in two carries, earned 13. They finished the game with 96 and 52 yards respectively – both at clips of over five yards per carry. The Bengals have areas they need to address heading into the offseason – the backfield isn’t one of them.
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3.) A.J. Green finished the game with two receptions and a total of 17 yards. He failed to possess the ball in bounds on multiple sideline catches, and didn’t beat rookie corner Marlon Humphrey. Aside from drawing pass interference – as he did in the first drive of the game – his contribution was marginal. From the Bengals’ presumed best offensive player, whom they’re supposed to win on account of, more has to be asked.
Tyler Boyd, a receiver who’d been seemingly absent for most of the season, accounted for 5 catches and 91 yards. Tyler Kroft, aside from his two touchdowns, accounted for 6 catches and 53 yards. Considering how neither usually come up so big in big spots, it’s fair to wonder what Green’s mediocrity could’ve meant. The next coaching staff might build around Mixon as the offensive focal piece anyway, but Green’s consistency could be cited.
4.) The Bengals defense went down in big moments – metaphorically and literally. Vontaze Burfict was ruled out well in advance of the game. Jordan Evans joined him midway through the game, while Vincent Rey was out in bits and pieces. For significant stretches, the Bengals’ linebackers were Hardy Nickerson and Brandon Bell. In the second half, when the Ravens vastly outgained the Bengals on offense, that was a major contributing factor.
On that thought – several defensive starters and depth pieces played well. George Iloka, Shawn Williams, William Jackson, Darqueze Dennard, and Dre Kirkpatrick all had big moments in coverage. Carlos Dunlap was a force up front, as he usually is. Jordan Evans flexed his athleticism in coverage multiple times – he could be a cornerstone of the unit down the road.
Between Atkins, Dunlap, Burfict and Evans in the front, and Iloka, Williams, Jackson, Dennard, and Kirkpatrick in the back? The next defensive coaching staff in Cincinnati has scheme-versatile pieces to work with.