Matt’s Take – Drought period begins


After pulling out a win on Sunday against the Browns to secure Cincinnati’s first AFC North victory of the season (thanks Jeff Driskel), Cincinnati officially ends the season with a winning record of 9-8. They are the only team out of the AFC North to miss the playoffs, while the division becomes the first since 1935 to have all teams above .500.

While it is a shame to see the season end without a playoff berth, it is remarkable what it took to keep Cincinnati out of the playoffs. They fought each week through some key injuries and continued to keep fans intrigued right up until the last week of the year. While I would be lying if I said I was over-excited about yesterday’s matchup, it was quite sad to see this era of the Cincinnati Bengals come to a close and I attempted to soak that in. Tyler Boyd may have just played his final game in stripes and if so, he has already cemented himself in the Ring of Honor in the future.

In his career, he has 513 receptions along with 6,000 yards. He is one the best slot receivers, if not the best, in franchise history and has been reliable since he was drafted in 2016. Aside from Boyd, it also could be Tee Higgins’ last year as a Bengal, although I expect Cincinnati to franchise tag him. As good as Tee is, his health is a huge concern and something I hope Cincinnati takes into consideration before making any long term decisions. The key for this offense is having Higgins, Boyd, Chase, and Burrow on the field and injuries just kept this from happening. I know Burrow said the window is always open with him on the roster, but as much as I want to believe him, it sort of feels like our window is near closing.

What Did it Take for Cincinnati to Miss the Playoffs?

My feed flooded with some comments from Browns’ fans over the weekend and it certainly appears they have tried to make the Browns-Bengals a “thing.” For me, I am glad to see Browns’ fans get to enjoy postseason football, as it certainly doesn’t happen often. For a team that has never won the AFC North, their fans deserve to enjoy this. If Cleveland would’ve had a reason to play their starters on Sunday, Cincinnati very much could have ended the season without an AFC North victory. This division is filled with good talent, tough defense, and coaches who are very familiar with each other. I always look forward to seeing how the AFC North teams do during playoff time and I am eager to see how our rivals hold up in the weeks to come. Even with all the negatives from this season, Cincinnati barely missed the playoffs. Let’s see just what it took this year to keep Cincinnati out of the playoffs:

Starting off 1-3 with Joe Burrow not being able to move was devastating and nearly too big of a hole to dig ourselves out of. Hindsight, maybe we should have let Browning play the first four games to get Joe back to 100 percent and Cincinnati maybe could have won an extra game in there. Go watch the tape from the first four weeks of unhealthy Joe … brutal.

Higgins only played in 12 games and actually ended the year with less yards than Boyd. He only had 42 receptions on the year (3 more than Tanner Hudson). He just couldn’t stay healthy.

Until the final game, Cincinnati was winless in the AFC North and still almost made the playoffs. After starting 1-3, along with not winning an AFC North game until the final week, it is actually remarkable that we had a winning record. What a wacky season!

Before Burrow went down with his wrist injury, Cincinnati was beginning to “heat up” with victories over the Bills, 49ers, and Seahawks. Let’s face it, when your franchise quarterback goes down, what else can you expect?

The defense this year was simply lackluster. Even if everyone was healthy, I don’t think Cincinnati had a defense this year capable of making a deep run. Cincinnati gave up 126 rush yards per game. Along with the tackling issues, they also gave up way too many explosive plays from our young secondary. This defense missed safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates far more than I think many expected.

Drought Period

While I hate that the Bengals didn’t meet their expectations in 2023, there is certainly a lot to look forward to in the near future. With a healthy Number 9 returning next season, we can all get back to watching our franchise quarterback carve up defenses again, while crossing our fingers that he remains healthy.

The worst part about not having post-season football to me is this drought period of no Bengals football or Reds baseball. The deep runs in recent years have made transitioning to baseball so much smoother, but this year, we are without Bengals’ football in early January. Of course, college basketball is in full swing, but when you’re like me and watch the Mountaineers (I don’t recommend this year), you find yourself scrolling Netflix and Amazon Prime instead looking for something to numb the pain! Enough with the negative mindset though, as there is so much to look forward to with this Reds season approaching!

80 Days until Reds Opening Day (My favorite day of the year)

36 Days until Pitchers and Catchers Report

47 Days until the Reds first Spring Training Game

This column appears in several newspapers in southwest Ohio.

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