CINCINNATI - Marvin Lewis says his Bengals now need help to get into the playoffs. Nothing short of a Christmas miracle will get them there.
The Bengals look nothing like a playoff team. They've won a grand total of one game since Sept. 29. Their offensive line has had trouble protecting the quarterback and run blocking. Their defense can't take the ball away from the opposition with any regularity. And for some reason known only to God, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis, Mike Nugent is still attempting to kick extra points without hitting a goal post.
This team is on a rocket ride to a long offseason.
Let's begin with this: talent wise, there is a lot to work with. The most popular player on any football team is the back-up quarterback. But for all of you in love with the idea of AJ McCarron quarterbacking the Bengals, it's not happening. Andy Dalton gives the team its best chance to win. The problem isn't Dalton. It's his line and his lack of options outside of A.J. Green.
The Bengals also have effective players in tight end Tyler Eifert and rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Eifert is Dalton's comfort blanket. Boyd has struggled with the transition from college to pro, but he has amazing quickness and anything around him, he catches. Barring a setback from knee surgery, Gio Bernard has skills that complement Jeremy Hill.
On defense, Geno Atkins' numbers are staggering. But watch him in most games: he is constantly disrupting what the other team is trying to do. Vontaze Burfict, Carlos Dunlap and George Iloka form a solid core, along with Atkins, to build on.
There's a lot of talent. But there are also a lot of things this team has failed at this season.
The Bengals spent first- and second-round picks in 2015 on tackles. It would be generous to say that first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi is struggling. In fact, he was on the field for less than half of the plays Sunday in Baltimore
Second-rounder Jake Fisher has contributed only on plays involving extra linemen or as a blocking back. That's not enough return. There have been issues this year at guard and center. And the Bengals' best lineman is their oldest and the player they've seemed to distance themselves from.
Andrew Whitworth is signed only through this season. The front office thought drafting Ogbuehi and Fisher would allow them to move on from Whitworth. After this season, they should rush to sign him. At the very least, he could play guard for the next 3-4 years.
The defense is aging. I thought I knew this. But I was still startled when CBS used a graphic on Sunday that said the Bengals had the oldest defense in the NFL. The oldest. They also have another problem: they don't take the ball away. And because of that, the average starting point for the Bengals on offense this season has been their own 25-yard line. With five games to go, the Bengals have a grand total of five fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. They have a lot of players who tackle. They don't have enough playmakers.
And then there's Nugent. On a Sunday when his counterpart kicked three field goals in excess of 50 yards, he still hasn't made a kick this season from that range. And he missed another extra-point attempt. The Bengals turned the ball over on their final drive against the Ravens. Had they scored, a made extra point would have given them the win. Of course, that would have been asking Nugent to make two PAT's in the same game.
There are a number of things to blame for this season. Not re-signing Mohammad Sanu and Marvin Jones would be at the top of the list. Recent first-round draft picks that haven't panned out would be another reason. And losing Hue Jackson and the entire defensive side of the coaching staff (except coordinator Paul Guenther) has had an effect, too. Fans think those are excuses.They're legitimate explanations.
The Bengals "window of opportunity" is still open for 2017. But the only way next year is better than this year is to aggressively address the things that nuked this season. And that has to be on Mike Brown.
I don't blame Gary Kubiak at all for asking his kicker to make a 62 yard field goal in overtime. As Herm Edwards is famous for saying, "Why do you play the game? You play the game to win".... especially at home....
Tennessee is coming on. The AFC South may not have the kind of teams the AFC West has, but it's just as competitive. The Texans at 6-5 have just a half game lead over Tennessee. Even 5-6 Indianapolis is in it.....
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers probably won't make the playoffs. But at 6-5, they're in the mix after smacking the Seahawks around Sunday. They're just a game behind the Falcons in the NFC South...
And the Falcons have quietly pieced together a very good season.....
A bittersweet anniversary comes up tomorrow. We lost a great musician 15 years ago Tuesday. George Harrison died on Nov. 29, 2001. And while Harrison didn't get to write or sing lead on most Beatles songs, here's one that became an instant classic
This is a classic performance of this song. He's playing here with the incomparable Eric Clapton, who played on the song recorded by the Beatles. Clapton appeared on that album reluctantly, saying that no one other than a Beatle should play on a Beatles song. But his friend Harrison insisted, and so into the studio Clapton went.
They had a very intricate relationship, with Harrison eventually divorcing his first wife so she could marry Clapton.
And yes, that's Ringo Starr on drums....
Harrison was spiritual in mind and body. He had this to say, while he was dying, about what he believed happens when we leave this earth: "In the end, life goes on within you and without you. I just have a belief that this is only one little bit. The physical world is one little bit of the universes. So in the end, it doesn't really matter."
George Harrison, a Beatle and so much more, died 15 years ago Tuesday from throat cancer. He was 58.