The Cincinnati Bengals played with intensity and focus in Week 16. That energy helped eliminate the Detroit Lions from the playoffs.
Welp. Will wonders ever cease? Santa Claus popped in early for the Cincinnati Bengals and dropped a W under the tree at Paul Brown Stadium. The Detroit Lions came to town with dreams of the playoffs dancing in their heads. They leave town with their tails between their legs, a lesson learned and a 26-17 loss to the Bengals.
Surprisingly, the Bengals did something that hasn’t been seen since Week 13. Cincinnati actually played the Lions with heart. What could have been a yawner and walkthrough for the Bengals turned out to be a decent game.
In what could be Marvin Lewis’ last game walking the sidelines as head coach, his team proved they could still keep their heads in a game and focus. Last week, amid leaked social media chaos, the Bengals looked flat and uninspired as they lost to the Minnesota Vikings.
There was a marked difference in the intensity level of Week 16 as the defense was bolstered by the return of Vontaze Burfict and the offense had the services of Joe Mixon. Both players left the game with injuries and didn’t return. But, their infectious energy stayed on the field.
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With a ragtag O-line, the Bengals gave Andy Dalton some decent protection. Yes, they were playing the Lions. Yes, Detroit was riddled with injuries also. But, it’s the NFL and it’s next man up. Youngsters Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman helped pave the way for a Bengals’ ground game that finally showed up.
Behind the young beef, Giovani Bernard was able to pound out 116 yards on 23 carries. Gio also sliced his way into the end zone, on a 12-yard scamper that eventually capped the game at 26-17. Bernard ended the day with 168 total yards to give Mixon something to think about. This was the Gio that Bengals fans had come to adore before Jeremy Hill became a fan favorite.
With the unexpected performance of the O-line, there could be more surprises in the draft. The issue of taking offensive linemen early or having it be the priority has been the talk around Cincinnati water coolers. But, Westerman and Redmon could be a pair of answers to part of the problem. Andre Smith was signed to a one-year deal. But, with Trey Hopkins able to move around and the versatile Redmond lurking, Smith may be shown the exit.
Defense looks snappy
Burfict’s return inspired the defense to play like they enjoy the game. That’s part of the element that was missing while he was out with a concussion. After Burfict departed with a shoulder injury, his passion still ignited the D to play with fire.
Carlos Dunlap needed just a half sack to pass Reggie Williams for second place on the Bengals sack list. He was able to bring down Matthew Stafford on the Lions’ last drive to do just that. His total now stands at 63.5. Rookie Carl Lawson (9.5 sacks) added insult to injury, when he followed Dunlap with another takedown.
The Bengals end the season against another team looking to make the playoffs. Week 17 will be a showdown against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. If the intensity is just as high as the Lions win, there could be some sad souls in Baltimore.