Nov 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks on from the sidelines during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns won 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
When do just three losses in nine NFL games mean that you’re in serious danger of falling out of the playoff race? Easy … when two teams in your division are on an upward trajectory just as you are running into a brick wall of injuries, and especially when one of those non-losses was tie. In other words, when you are the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals.
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On Thursday night, the Bengals put their home winning streak on the line against the in-state Cleveland Browns and came up way short, falling 24-3. Although Cleveland may not be a dominant team, as Bengals’ running back Jeremy Hill can attest, Cincinnati’s flaws were on full display , and the Browns were more than capable of taking advantage.
Front and center in the Bengals’ shortcomings on Thursday was the play of quarterback Andy Dalton, who went 10-for-33, with 86 yards and three interceptions. . Sitting on his big new contract, expectations were high for Dalton entering this season, and he has mostly been fine. Regression as the stretch run approaches is bad news for the Bengals, though, and they won’t win if Dalton has many (maybe ANY) repeats of last night’s gaffes.
The Bengals also continued to struggle in stopping the run, surrendering a total of 170 yards and three TDs to a trio of Cleveland backs. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been unavailable or ineffective all season, and Cincinnati hasn’t been able to absorb that loss.
Also on the “lost personnel” front, starting running back Giovani Bernard was out against Cleveland, his second straight miss. Although rookie Jeremy Hill scorched the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, he couldn’t get any traction this time around, totaling 55 yards.
So here we are, looking at a tough seven-game schedule to wrap up the season, and the Bengals are in third place in the AFC North. They’ll likely need to finish second or better to make the post-season, and that looks like a tall order at this point.
Unless Cincinnati gets healthy and better in key areas, soon, the promising start to 2014 will have been squandered.