We knew the Bengals were going to lose some winnable games this season. You don’t start a rookie quarterback throwing to a rookie wide receiver in a scheme designed by a rookie offensive coordinator and not have some growing pains.
But this one was just heartbreaking.
Everything was set up for Cincinnati. The Broncos were coming off a bad loss in a short week and were without their best wide receiver, starting running back, and three best defensive players. Then, early in the game, they lost their second-best receiver to a groin injury. The Bengals, so good at running the ball and stopping the run, faced a team that couldn’t run it and couldn’t stop the run the week before.
But the Broncos ran it well, held Cedric Benson to 57 yards rushing, and threw it all over the field to a receiver no one had heard of before today. Cincinnati was 1 of 11 on third down. The first three were third-and-ones the Bengals couldn’t convert.
And it’s heartbreaking, because this is the way the Bengals typically lose these games. They find ways to lose when they should win.
Like giving up a 50+ yard touchdown pass when Chris Crocker and Nate Clements ran into each other on the coverage. Or having to settle for a field goal after recovering a fumble on the Broncos’ 14-yard line. Or holding on a punt that caused their final drive to start on their own five instead of the 30.
To be sure, there was a lot to like. Andy Dalton had a breakout day, completing 27 of 41 passes for 332 yards, two TD’s and no interceptions. For the second week in a row, Cincinnati didn’t turn the ball over. Despite looking knocked out several times, being down 14 once and nine twice, Dalton continued to rally the Bengals to keep them in the game. He showed a lot of poise and made good decisions most of the day.
But, in the end, they still lost a very winnable game. In fact, this was a game they should have won.
And that’s what the Bengals have been doing for nine years under Marvin Lewis. In crunch-time, they fail.
Dalton and the Bengals’ young receivers gave fans a lot of reason for hope, but this is still a work in progress.