Here’s an interesting statistic for you: Since starting last season 8-0, the Cincinnati Bengals are 7-10-1.
That’s not good, of course. For a team considered a Super Bowl contender a year ago, the slide down the NFL ladder continued Monday night when the Bengals fell 21-20 to the New York Giants at Met Life Stadium. The loss dropped the Bengals’ record to 3-5-1 with just seven games remaining.
Luckily for the Bengals, the AFC North has proven to be a mediocre group. Division leader Baltimore is just 5-4. Pittsburgh is 4-5. Unluckily for the Bengals, they are just as mediocre.
Looking back, we should not have been surprised by this turn of events. This isn’t the same team that breezed through the first half of last season before quarterback Andy Dalton’s broken thumb pushed the train off the tracks.
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Start with the wide receiver position. Yes, A.J. Green is one of if not the best receiver in the game. A quiet superstar who consistently produces, the former Georgia star has caught 66 passes for 964 yards this season, averaging 14.6 yards per grab despite receiving constant attention from opposing defenses.
The reason for the constant attention is that the Bengals don’t have any other viable threats. Since free agents Mohamed Sanu signed with Atlanta and Marvin Jones signed with Detroit, the Bengals have been unable to develop a consistent pass-catcher opposite Green. Brandon LaFell, picked up from New England, has just 29 catches through nine games. Rookie Tyler Boyd has but 27.
It hasn’t helped that tight end Tyler Eifert missed nearly the entire first half of the season after first undergoing ankle surgery and then injuring his back. Eifert’s worth was in evidence Monday when he caught a 71-yard pass from quarterback Andy Dalton to set up a touchdown on the team’s first possession. Alas, Eifert caught just two more passes the rest of the night.
It’s the same story with the Bengals secondary. Free agent Reggie Nelson, who intercepted eight passes a year ago, signed with Oakland. Veteran Leon Hall, a valuable nickel back a year ago, signed with the New York Giants. Their replacements, combined with some slippage from 33-year old corner Adam Jones, haven’t filled the bill.
The dropoff was especially evident Monday night when the Giants’ Odell Beckham ran wild in the Cincinnati secondary. Targeted 11 times by quarterback Eli Manning, Beckham caught 10 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. When New York needed a big play, the Giants went to Beckham.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are in dire need of a quick turnaround. There’s still plenty of football left to play, but the prospect of a wild-card berth is problematic given that three teams in the AFC West own records of 7-3 or better. Rallying to win the division is the Bengals’ best bet at a sixth consecutive playoff berth.
They won’t lack for chances. Four of Cincinnati’s seven remaining games are against division foes. After welcoming Buffalo (4-5) this Sunday, the Bengals visit Baltimore for the first of two games against the Ravens. They have one more date with currently winless Cleveland (Dec. 11 at Cleveland) and play struggling Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 18.
If the Bengals don’t pick up their play, however, those games won’t matter. Here’s another stat for you: Last year, the Bengals ranked second in the NFL in fewest points allowed. This year, they’re 18th.
Sometimes, statistics don’t lie.
Bills at Bengals
1 p.m. Sunday (Fox-56)
Cincinnati Bengals 2016 schedule and results
at N.Y. Jets
at New England
at NY Giants