For most teams, finishing the regular season 11-5, winning a division title, and earning the third seed in the playoffs would be considered a great season. However, in Cincinnati, that all would not mean anything unless the Bengals could win their first playoff game in 23 years. They fell short in a 27-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round. The Bengals made the playoffs for three years in a row and have failed to get out of the first round each time.
The city of Cincinnati is tired of earning playoff berths that do not go anywhere. If you can make it to the playoffs three years in a row, but can not make it past the first round, some will say what’s the point? The Bengals really had their best team in years this season in terms of talent, offensively and defensively. Andy Dalton set a career and team record with 33 touchdown passes, and the offense finished in the top 10 in the league. Defensively, they were able to come together and really play as a whole even without pro bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall for the majority of the season. Many thought this year was the year the Bengals would make it to the promised land in New York, but those dreams were shot down last weekend.
Looking at the improvement of the team overall, they definitely took steps forward this year despite the early playoff exit. The defense has found a rhythm as a unit and when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer likely leaves to take a head coaching job somewhere else, this defense will still be able to play with the intensity and toughness that Zimmer has instilled in them. Zimmer is a tough coach and the players respect him for it.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Andy Dalton was once again inconsistent. Although when he did have his good games, he showed some improvement on accuracy on short to medium pass routes.
One of the questions about Dalton ever since he entered the NFL has been his arm strength, and he showed a few times throughout the season that he can throw the ball deep, but accuracy on the long ball is more the issue than the ability to throw it far.
Dalton finished his third year with the most interceptions of his career, 20. The touchdown record of 33 and the interception high at 20 shows the inconsistency Dalton put out on the fueld this season. When he was good, he was really good. When he was bad, he was pretty bad. Dalton threw his first postseason touchdown this year, but his three turnovers in the game would eventually lead to the Bengals’ demise.
The defense was the savior of this team this season and with the offensive talent that Dalton has surrounding him many expected the Bengals to win it all this year. Once again, the Bengals fell short of their expectations. The Bengals can only get better in 2014, and with Dalton and AJ Green playing in their last season of their rookie contracts, each should be ready to put their best performance out on the table.