The Bengals beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-34 on Sunday afternoon. It was a big win for a team that had lost two-straight games. The outcome favored the Bengals and yet fans, coaches, and players were left wondering how to feel after Randy Bullock kicked the game-winning 44-yard field goal as time expired.
"I'm pleased that we won, but I'm not pleased with how we played," Marvin Lewis said after the game.
Lewis can't be the only one who was underwhelmed by the Bengals' performance. Their offense didn't get a first down in the second half until the 4:56 mark of the fourth quarter. It was eerily similar to the offense that showed up in Kansas City a week ago. They limped to the finish, but they didn't start that way.
The offense scored four first half touchdowns and looked like the group we saw earlier in the season against Atlanta and Baltimore. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor committed to the run and Joe Mixon racked up 114 rushing yards on 14 attempts in the first half. The Bengals took a 27-9 lead into halftime.
The offense wouldn't score another touchdown the rest of the way and weren't responsible for points until the final play of the game.
"All of the three-and-outs, we were in third-and-long situations, and it made it tough," Andy Dalton said. "We kept hurting ourselves It's tough to be in that situation, especially when you're the one controlling it."
Dalton completed 21-of-34 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He led the offense on an eight-play, 50-yard drive that set up Bullock's game-winning kick. The Bengals escaped with their fifth victory of the season.
Injuries have plagued this team all season long and that theme continued on Sunday. Defensive end Carl Lawson suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. It's a huge blow to a defense that was allowing 29 points-per-game entering Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay.
Lawson is one of the Bengals' best pass rushers and had a 79.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, which is tied for second on the defensive line with Carlos Dunlap and behind Geno Atkins (86.2 grade). Lawson only had one sack this year, but he did have 25 pressures. It's going to be hard to replace him. The Bengals will probably give Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard more snaps on the edge. Lawson tore the ACL in his left knee during his sophomore season at Auburn.
Left guard Clint Boling left the game with a back injury and did not return. He's been the Bengals' best and most consistent offensive lineman this season. They are hoping that rookie center Billy Price will be good to go on November 11th against New Orleans.
The trade deadline is Tuesday and the Bengals will likely do their due diligence in hopes of finding a deal that makes sense for them. They could use help at linebacker, cornerback, tight end and wide receiver. Rookie Jordan Franks had a 32-yard reception on Sunday, which gave fans a glimpse of what coaches have seen from him in practice.
Running back Giovani Bernard is expected return to the field against the Saints. He is a proven commodity, who should help the Bengals' consistency on offense. One has to wonder if they will consider signing Dez Bryant, Terrelle Pryor or another weapon for the offense? Tyler Eifert is out for the season, Tyler Kroft is expected to miss multiple weeks, John Ross is dealing with a pulled groin that has lingered since Week 4.
Could the Bengals trade for a wide receiver? DeSean Jackson would make a lot of sense and he wants to be traded according to reports. It's hard to envision the Bengals making that type of splash move. They should be in the market to acquire talented players that could get them over the hump. The AFC North is wide open, but it's hard to envision this team making a run without adding another piece.
Other notes and observations:
Jessie Bates is the real deal. The rookie safety scored his first touchdown in the NFL today and is the highest-graded member of the Bengals' secondary according to Pro Football Focus. Bates has 54 tackles on the season, which is tied for seventh in the NFL and leads the team. He's the only safety in the top ten, which says a lot about his play and the Bengals' struggles on defense.
The Cincinnatians came up big on Sunday. Both Adolphus Washington and Sam Hubbard had sacks. Preston Brown had seven tackles and an interception. It's always good when local players make it to the NFL. It's even better to see them have an impact for their hometown team.
Tyler Boyd is on pace to finish the season with 98 receptions, 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns. He continues to shine in his third season. I said Boyd was Dalton's 'safety net' at the start of the season. He's been that and more in the first half of 2018.
The Bengals' defense allowed 576 yards of total offense on Sunday. They are on pace to allow 7,164 yards, which would set an NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. The 2012 Saints hold the current record of 7,042 yards.
45,134 people were at Paul Brown Stadium today, which is the lowest attendance number since the 2011 season.
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