The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years and that should be the main story. And it is. But just barely.
It’s simply hard to get over the mind-blowing decisions of head coach Marvin Lewis during the Bengals’ 13-10 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday which allowed Cincinnati to clinch a wildcard berth at 9-6. (This week’s game against visiting Baltimore means nothing for the Bengals. They are locked into the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.)
In the improbable win at Heinz Field, the Bengals jumped out to a 7-0 lead courtesy of a pick-6 from Leon Hall (yes, Leon Hall has now made two huge plays in consecutive games; something crazy is going on this season). They increased their lead to 10-0, and then the Steelers got on the board on a 60-yard TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown to make the count 10-7 Bengals at halftime.
And somewhere in the locker room, Marvin Lewis lost his mind.
In the third quarter, with the score still 10-7, the Bengals were facing a 4th-and-22 from Pittsburgh’s 33-yard line. Obviously, the only two choices there are to attempt a 50-yard field goal, or punt. Not in Marvin Lewis World. Lewis decided to go for it. On fourth-and-22! And while it almost worked – A.J. Green nearly stayed in bounds on a deep pass from Andy Dalton – it was still the height of stupidity.
But Lewis didn’t want any part of trying a 50-yard-field goal in Heinz Field where the longest FG in stadium history is 52 yards. Good point.
Oh wait, in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals facing a 4th-and-11 from the Steelers’ 39 and the score now knotted at 10, Lewis decided attempting a 56-yard field goal was the best option. He thinks a 50-yarder is too long, but not a 56-yarder. And the Bengals would have “only” needed to gain 11 yards for the first down when they instead decided to attempt the 56-yarder, compared to needing 22 yards when they passed up the 50-yarder. Lewis is a walking unintentional stand-up comedy act. Josh Brown’s attempt fell about 30 yards short (alright more like 5) and the Steelers were almost in field goal range themselves when they took possession of the ball.
Fortunately for the Bengals, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin – whose stock is falling faster than Facebook’s – nearly trumped Lewis by having his kicker attempt a 54-yarder. Scott Suisham’s kick only fell a yard or two short and the Bengals were back in business.
But they couldn’t take advantage and had to punt the ball down to Pittsburgh’s 11 where we were certainly headed for overtime.
Until Roethlisberger – clearly inspired by the stupidity he had witnessed out of his own coach and especially out of Lewis – decides to gamble from his own side of the field and throw his second game-losing interception in as many weeks.
Actually, it wouldn’t have been a game-losing pick if not for a great passing play from Dalton-to-Green on a corner route for 21 yards which put Brown in good position for the game-winning 43-yard field goal.
You can come up for air now.
Anyway, kudos to the Bengals’ players and most of the coaches for making the playoffs. For many Bengal fans, this will be your first time seeing your team in the postseason in back-to-back years. And let’s not even think about the fact that the first-round opponent is likely the Patriots in New England. Doesn’t even need to cross our mind. I won’t even write about it. These last four sentences obviously don’t count.
Anyway, back to our favorite, decision-making-challenged head coach for a moment. Marvin Lewis needs someone in the press box – preferably someone who scored double-digits on their ACT – to alert him when he’s about to do something incredibly stupid.
Then Lewis has the audacity to come in the postgame press conference on Sunday and pretend as if he’s this uber-aggressive coach and that’s just the way he operates. Listen to this quote from Bengals.com:
“I made decisions to try to win the game today,” Lewis said. “It kind of backfired on me a little bit. I tell them all the time we’re not backing down. We’re going to keep coaching and playing aggressively. I can’t do that and then put my tail between my legs. We’ve got to be aggressive.”
To Lewis’s credit, he did say that his team “bailed him out.” However, that was the very minimum of what he could say after utter coaching blunders that nearly cost his team a chance at sealing up a spot in the playoffs.
And who is he trying to kid with this “aggressive” BS? He’s one of the most-conservative coaches in the NFL. Well, except when it comes to using his challenge flag at the wrong time. He’s quite liberal in that department. Er, I mean, “aggressive.”
There are many times when Lewis has chances to be aggressive in games, but takes the passive approach. So, let’s not confuse what we saw on Sunday with aggression. It was flat stupidity.
Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden make up the best defensive/offensive coordinator tandem the Bengals have ever had. But the pisser for Bengal fans is that Cincy will probably eventually lose both of them to head coaching positions … and will be stuck with just Lewis.
Atkins: Strictly A Sack Diet
The amazing season for Geno Atkins reached its climax against the Steelers when the third-year defensive tackle racked up 2.5 sacks, giving him 13 on the season. Thirteen sacks for a D-tackle? That’s astonishing. Especially for a former fourth-round pick (out of the Bengals unofficially AAA affiliate of course, Georgia). The Bengals lead the NFL with 47 sacks and Michael Johnson is second on the team with 9.5 sacks.
Both Atkins and Johnson will be restricted free agents this offseason. The Bengals are well under the salary cap and have plenty of money available to extend both players. But has Mike Brown really turned over a new leaf? Does he even comprehend the value of Atkins? Let’s hope Brown doesn’t go the cheapskate route. He needs to take a page from the Reds’ playbook and get all of his young studs signed long-term.