The Arizona Cardinals had little chance of advancing in the playoffs with third-stringer Ryan Lindley at quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were much easier to defend when Le’Veon Bell was sidelined before the opening round loss to Baltimore.
And the Bengals latest postseason failure was significantly due to injuries at wide receiver, tight end, and linebacker.
“We’re definitely not using that as an excuse and I hope that’s not the storyline,” said George Iloka.
That’s not an excuse – it’s a reason.
“You see it every year,” said Andrew Whitworth. “One team might not be the best but it’s the healthiest.”
Before you fire off an angry “every team in the NFL has injuries” e-mail, I will readily admit that’s true. But not all injuries have the same impact. Show me the team that won a playoff game (ever?) without its top two receivers (A.J. Green and Marvin Jones), top two tight ends (Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham), and top two linebackers (Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga).
The Bengals chances of postseason success were heavily dependent on a successful running attack led by Jeremy Hill. When Green and Gresham were ruled out before Sunday’s game, it became much easier for the Colts to “stack the box” on defense to make it difficult to run.
“There could be 11 guys on the line – you still have to make plays,” said Hill who finished with 47 yards rushing. “You’ve got to make guys miss and break tackles – that’s what the great running backs do and I didn’t do that today.”
While I appreciate Jeremy’s sentiments, I didn’t see many holes to run through.
Instead, the Colts strategy dared the Bengals to beat them with downfield passes, but Cincinnati’s longest completion was a 26-yard throw to converted running back Rex Burkhead. Andy Dalton had an opportunity for a big play on a flea-flicker to Brandon Tate but did not lead him enough on the heave.
“I felt like there were some good things out there, but I didn’t play good enough,” said Dalton. “That’s what it comes down to. I’ve got to do more. I’ve got to push our guys to do more, but it all starts with me.”
Dalton joined Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to lose their first four playoff games. Marvin Lewis joined Jim Mora as the only coaches to go 0-6 in the postseason.
“They say it is Marvin’s record or Andy’s record but it’s our record,” said Vinny Rey. “It’s my record too. I want to turn this thing around. We didn’t do it today, but if we don’t learn from this then we’ve gained nothing.”
So what did we learn?
Last year when Dalton had a full stable of healthy receiving targets, he set team records by throwing for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns. This year without Jones, Eifert, and Green (for most of six games), those numbers plummeted. A handful of quarterbacks can thrive regardless of who they’re throwing to, but Andy is not on that list.
The Bengals also need to rediscover their pass rush. Cincinnati was dead last in the NFL with 20 sacks this year after having 43, 51, and 45 in the previous three seasons. Andrew Luck dropped back to pass 46 times on Sunday and was only sacked once. How many times did he bounce around in the pocket for ages before finding an open receiver?
“I hate playing those types of quarterbacks – like Big Ben – the guys that can keep the play alive because it’s hard to stay in coverage that long,” said Iloka. “Most coverages are built for ‘One, two, three, ball is out.’ After that, you’re scrambling around trying to find who is open and cover them.”
Perhaps the biggest thing that we’ve learned is that it’s hard to enjoy being one of only four teams to go to the playoffs each of the last four years when the postseason ends in the first round.
“It sucks,” said Giovani Bernard. “It’s not fun. We’ve got to rebound, get some new additions to the team and take it from there.”
“I feel bad for the players, I feel bad for the city and the fans,” said Marvin Lewis. “We fought our butts off, but we didn’t get enough done today.”
The last time the Bengals won a playoff game, George H.W. Bush was President, the Wire-to-Wire Reds were the reigning World Series champions, and the UC Bearcats were in their second season under a brash young coach named Bob Huggins.
The drought and the doubt continue.
“It’s motivation,” said Hill. “That’s all you can do at this point. The season is over so you’ve got to use it as motivation in the off-season and come back stronger than ever.”
“There’s a reason we’re in it every year and that’s because we set out at the beginning of the year – myself and the leaders of this team – and we create that atmosphere,” said Whitworth. “That atmosphere isn’t going anywhere as long as I’m here. You can’t guarantee anything, but I promise you that we’ll put in the time to be here again next year.”
“You get back to work and you get ready to beat down the door again,” said Lewis. “That’s all you can do.”
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