Two weeks ago, the Bengals were 6-2 and one of the pleasant surprises of the NFL season. But there’s nothing pleasant about what the Bengals are doing now.
Entering today on a two-game losing streak, the Bengals absolutely can’t afford a loss to the Browns if they want to stay in the AFC playoff race. And losing to the Browns, 17-7, is exactly what the Bengals are doing at halftime.
The Browns’ offense started the game with a nine-play, 82-yard drive and ended the half with a Colt McCoy-to-Greg Little touchdown pass. Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis has surprisingly looked healthy and effective — even though it was just days ago that the Browns were saying Hillis was at least another week away from being able to play at all. Hillis is breaking tackles and moving the ball through a physical Bengals defense. (Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard was not flagged for facemasking on the pictured play.)
Cedric Benson is running well for Cincinnati, but Andy Dalton hasn’t been able to move the ball much through the air, and the Bengals’ offense looks lifeless. As does the Cincinnati crowd, as this game is being played in front of thousands of empty seats.
If the Bengals aren’t better in the second half than they were in the first, this may be the day that we stop thinking of Cincinnati as a playoff contender.