The flaws were obvious but the ending was different.
The Bengals finally won a game in Denver, keeping their hopes for a playoff berth barely flickering for at least one more week.
It’ll take a statistically improbable series of events — a closing flourish by the Bengals, a closing implosion by numerous other teams — but at least there’s a chance.
The overriding question: Can the Bengals (4-6) fix the myriad problems that have dragged them down all season?
The Broncos’ struggles helped them win despite another very flawed performance.
“I don’t want it to sound like, ‘Hey, this was great,'” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday. “It wasn’t great. No one walked out saying it was great, other than the fact we won.
“But I think sometimes you get into those ruts in a season where you feel like if we could just get a win right now, maybe we can get the momentum turned, and I thought that’s what we were able to do.”
Andy Dalton got more time to throw and ended up with three touchdown passes, the last to A.J. Green for the decisive points in the 20-17 victory. But the running game was as bad as ever — 49 total yards — and the defense again had trouble getting off the field.
The Broncos (3-7) ran 26 more plays and had the ball for 10 minutes more than the Bengals. Denver also vastly outgained Cincinnati, 341-190, but self-destructed along the way.
In response, the Broncos fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Monday and elevated quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.
The Bengals’ first win in Denver since 1975, when franchise founder Paul Brown was the head coach, gave them a chance to do something accomplished only four times since the league went to the current playoff format in 1990. The only teams to reach the postseason after starting 3-6 are the 1994 Patriots, the 1995 Lions, the 1996 Jaguars and the 2012 Redskins.
“Everything is still out in front of us,” Dalton said. “We just need to keep winning.”
The Bengals haven’t won more than two games in a row. One of the most glaring problems has been the offensive line’s inability to protect Dalton or open holes for running backs. Dalton hasn’t been sacked as often lately — only twice in Denver — but the running game remains the biggest problem, ranking last in the NFL and worst in franchise history.
They’re on pace to rush for 1,088 yards, easily their worst for a non-strike season. Their 3-yard average would shatter the club low mark of 3.6 yards.
“We’re failing to get the job done,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday.