PHILADELPHIA -- The scoreboard reads that the Cincinnati Bengals won convincingly. The standings say the Bengals (8-6) are in the thick of the playoff hunt.
But, based on the Bengals' play in the 34-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, no one can take Cincinnati seriously as playoff contenders. A national television audience watched the Bengals commit too many penalties, allow too many sacks and make too many bone-headed plays to fill a gag reel and not a highlight reel.
Maybe you can chalk up the mistakes to the Bengals' youth. Maybe this team can turn it around and be the same team that beat the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But if you're a team already in the playoffs, you want to play the Bengals after seeing them Thursday night. And if you're coach Marvin Lewis, you have to be concerned about what you witnessed at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I like our football team," Lewis said after the game. "I don't like how we play sometimes."
This is the time of year when teams need to start separating themselves from the pack. This is the time of season when teams need to show urgency. And this was the Bengals' best shot with the football world watching? Really?
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw behind receivers and held onto the ball too long, which resulted in two fumbles with his arm cocked back. Cincinnati failed to protect him, allowing Dalton to get sacked six times. The Bengals committed 11 penalties for 94 yards, some of which were careless (offsides on defense) and others were head-scratchers (Adam Jones head-butting a receiver and Carlos Dunlap hitting quarterback Nick Foles when the play was blown dead). And what was Brandon Tate thinking when he fielded a punt at the 1-yard line?
The Bengals didn't win this game. They leave with a victory because they were lucky enough to run into a team that played sloppier than they did. This was was an early holiday present from a dysfunctional Eagles team. Philadelphia turned the ball over four times in five minutes. The Eagles turned the ball over on three consecutive touches. This paved the way for the Bengals to score 24 points in 3 minutes, 23 seconds, which turned a three-point deficit (13-10) into a 21-point lead (34-13). In fact, all of the Bengals' 34 points came off Eagles mistakes (five turnovers and one blocked punt).
Now, the Bengals finish the season with the biggest obstacle of the past two years: the Steelers and Ravens. In the Dalton era, Cincinnati is 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It's true that the Bengals are getting two teams that are hurting. But the Bengals can't believe they can beat their division rivals if they continue to hurt themselves.
"Why can't we? We need the games, period and point blank," Jones said. "We have to bring two chin straps. Hopefully we can bring our 'A' game."
Still, if the Bengals play like they did Thursday night, will they be in trouble? "Yeah, we will be," Jones said.
It was not too long ago that the Bengals had won four straight and made me believe they were primed to make a run. Now, there's a big question mark over the Bengals after a five-day stretch in which they lost in the final seconds to Dallas and played down to the level of the four-win Eagles.
The biggest concern is on the offensive side of the ball. This didn't resemble the same offense that averaged 28 points in the recent four-game winning streak.
Dalton finished 13-of-27 for 127 yards, which is a poor performance in itself. In the final three quarters, Dalton was 9-of-19 for 86 yards. Part of the problem was each offensive lineman took turns getting beat, allowing the Eagles to get clean shots on Dalton. There were so many Eagles there that they could have held a defensive-line meeting around Dalton.
But there were times when Dalton waited too long to get rid of the ball. On his second fumble, Dalton stood there so long that 305-pound defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins had enough time to start from the right of the center and run all the way around the left tackle to strip the quarterback.
The Bengals turned the ball over twice to an Eagles team that hadn't forced a turnover in six games. They gave up six sacks to an Eagles team that averaged less than two over the first 13 games. The defense jumped offsides three times. The offense had a delay of game at the Eagles' 6-yard line. The Bengals didn't produce a drive longer than 48 yards. One scoring drive was four plays for minus-1 yard. The embarrassing numbers can go on and on.
"We have to keep playing smart. I believe we caught a punt on the 1-yard line," Lewis said. "We try so doggarned hard that we sometimes get in our own way. Those are the types of things that you don't want to do. We have a lot to coach off of, obviously, and a lot of corrections to make. We have to keep going. We are who we are. We're going to fight, fight and scratch every time we come out here."
The penalties on Jones and Dunlap show a lack of discipline. "You got to be smarter than that. We know better than that," Lewis said. "Those are the things that going forward that will get us beat. We can't do those things."
If those things continue, the Bengals know the end result.
"You really can't have that if you really want to be a factor in the playoffs," said cornerback Leon Hall, who made the game-turning interception on a pass that hung up so high he could've called for a fair catch.
The Bengals also know what the next two games hold. If they can win at Pittsburgh and home against Baltimore, they are assured of back-to-back playoff appearances. There's also a chance of winning the AFC North if the Ravens stumble down the stretch.
"I like the situation is the fact that we control us," Lewis said. "That's all you can ask for here in December. We can control what we can do. If we take care of our business, we'll be where we want to be."
But after watching the Bengals on Thursday night, they are far away from being the team they want to be.