The Cincinnati Bengals took their fans on a roller coaster ride yesterday afternoon. Such is the case with a young football team still trying to establish their identity. Such are the thoughts of Bengals 101 as we reflect back on yesterday's loss.
1. Yesterday's loss was the second in a row against division leaders. It puts a major damper on any hopes the Bengals might have for a divisional crown, but Cincinnati is still in the driver's seat for a playoff spot. They hold a one game lead on the Jets, Bills, Titans, and Broncos and own tie breakers against all but Denver. If the team can beat Cleveland, St. Louis, and Arizona and take at least one from Pittsburgh, Houston, or Baltimore, they should make the playoffs. Who would have thought that at training camp?
2. Rey Maualuga needs to be more consistent to reach his Pro Bowl potential. He's a leader on the defensive side and makes some great plays, especially against the run. Yesterday, however, he got lost in pass coverage and Anquan Boldin ran into his vacated spot for a big gain and a touchdown.
3. The Bengals' safeties can't keep letting receivers get behind them. Torrey Smith burned Nate Clements on a one on one matchup in the first half. Chris Crocker was in blitzing, so there was no help. But in the second half, Smith got behind both Crocker and Reggie Nelson to catch a long touchdown pass. Mike Zimmer needs to address why his safeties are getting split so often. That's a weakness of this defense.
4. Geno Atkins is a stud. Period. I don't recall hearing Ravens' All-Pro DT Haloti Ngata's name called that often yesterday. His Bengal counterpart was in the backfield all day. We've got a keeper in Atkins.
5. Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, and Andrew Hawkins all stepped up in a big way yesterday. With AJ Green out, they needed great performances and they got them. All three showed effort in going for the ball and all three made some nice catches on a day when Andy Dalton wasn't at his best.
6. Andy Dalton is a winner. Dalton had about as bad a second and third quarter as is possible, and much of it was his fault. His throws were just a bit off and three of them wound up in the hands of Baltimore defenders. He didn't pout, sulk, or point fingers. He came back. But for a couple of odd bits of officiating, the Bengals could have gone away winners yesterday. Only a few quarterbacks in the NFL can elevate a team's play all by themselves. Dalton is quickly becoming one of them. That's something Carson Palmer could never do.
7. The NFL needs to do something about rules governing a catch. I get that it was called by rule, and a similar call was made in the Bears-Chargers game later on, but the ruling on Jermaine Gresham's catch was strained. Instant replay was designed to ensure the calls on the field were the right ones, mainly calls that had been blatantly missed. Slowing down replay to a frame by frame view to see if the football moved a quarter of an inch while a receiver goes to the ground is a misuse of the system. Further, while the rule governing a completed catch might not have been misinterpreted yesterday, it was certainly misapplied. Once Gresham had possession and his feet down beyond the pylon, that should be the end of the story.
8. It's Cleveland week, a home game, and the Bengals first game against an opponent they've already played. This game is not only crucial to the Bengals' playoff hopes, it's a great measuring stick for how far they've come since the beginning of the season.
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