How can you blow a 14-0 lead against a terrible Oakland Raiders team? Well, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals just showed us the blueprint.
What an awfully-coached game for the Bengals from start-to-finish. There were so many poor decisions that I almost lost count. But the two that hurt the most were offensive play-calling and allowing an obviously-bad kickoff returner to handle the ball with the game on the line.
When Cincinnati had the chance to put the game away when leading 17-10 late in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski made one of the worst calls you could imagine. Just past midfield on third-and-five, the Bengals threw a fade pass to Brian Leonard about 15 yards down the field. If they get the first down there, the game is basically over. Pathetic decision by Bratkowski who struggled for much of the game to come up with the right call. You call a fade to Leonard there? Really?
However, even after the Bengals’ defense allowed the Raiders to tie the game at 17-17 (thanks in large part to Morgan Trent’s back-to-back brain cramps), the worst that could’ve happened for the Bengals was that the game would go to overtime. Well, unless you allow the worst kick returner in the NFL to return the ensuing kickoff.
And what does Marvin Lewis do? Despite the fact that Bernard Scott has clearly proven himself to be the best kickoff returner on the team – and despite the fact that Caldwell is DEAD LAST in the NFL in kickoff return average for players with 15 or more returns – he inexplicably allows Caldwell to return the kickoff. Didn’t Scott return a kickoff for a touchdown against the Steelers last week? Did I dream that? And you allow “slow-motion” Caldwell to ever have his hands on a kickoff again?
Caldwell is obviously uncomfortable in this role as even the most novice of football fans could understand. He’s a good wide receiver, bad kick returner. But Lewis and the coaching staff continue to try and pound a square peg into a round hole.
At best, Caldwell is going to have a shaky kickoff return (probably returned to the 18 or 19). At worst – as he already proved once prior to the Oakland game this season – he will fumble the ball away. And that’s exactly what he did to cost the Bengals the game on Sunday.
But do I fault Andre Caldwell?
If some random blogger like me said a month ago that Caldwell had no business returning kickoffs in the NFL, then how couldn’t Lewis see that? And what part about Bernard Scott establishing himself as the best kickoff returner on the team last week against the Steelers didn’t Lewis understand?
Oh, because Scott was playing running back, he couldn’t return kicks?
Horrible coaching decision.
In fact, the entire Bengals’ coaching staff should be embarrassed for not getting their team ready to beat an awful Raiders team. They’re lucky the Steelers lost to the equally-pathetic Chiefs earlier on Sunday.
Yeah, and you could also blame the Bengals’ loss on Jeremi Johnson’s fumble in the fourth quarter when they were going in for what looked like a TD already up 17-10. But what is Bratkowski doing giving the ball to Johnson there? The only thing Johnson has proven he won’t drop during his years with the Bengals is a Big Mac.
Bratkowski is usually so predictable as a play-caller that it’s excruciating for fans. (One of many examples: He almost-always runs on second-and-10 after throwing an incomplete pass on first down. If we know that, you had better believe everyone that plays the Bengal;s knows that too.)
However, today, he wasn’t predictable. He was just bad. Can you imagine what a good offensive coordinator could have done with Carson Palmer against the Raiders’ defense?