First, a plea.
Please, Cincinnati Bengals fans, continue coming to ESPN.com's Bengals blog for coverage throughout the offseason. Just because the season is officially over with Sunday's 27-10 wild-card round loss to San Diego does not mean the news and analysis stops. We'll have more on the defeat here on the blog throughout the week and we'll have much more on the team's next steps throughout the offseason.
Now, a breakdown of the breakdown.
It all started in the third quarter Sunday. A fumble here, an interception there and before you knew it, Cincinnati, which entered the second half up by three, suddenly trailed by seven. Seven then became 10, which wasn't really all that bad. But if you looked at the way the Bengals, half-panicked, tried to scrape their way back into the game, you would have thought the 10-point deficit was more like a 30-point margin. Frantic, they tried everything they overcome the not-so-big lead to get right back in the ballgame.
None of it worked.
On 31 separate fourth-quarter plays, quarterback Andy Dalton threw the football. None of those throws were caught in the end zone. It's quite interesting, really. Most quarterbacks would be content to have 31 throws in a single game, not within one 15-minute span. Maybe the passing game didn't have the success it needed because, for the most part, the Bengals didn't run the football to balance it out. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis only had 20 carries between them. They had 34 combined in last month's 17-10 win over the Chargers at San Diego.
Maybe the passing game was ineffective because as some Chargers put it, the Bengals didn't change much from that earlier meeting. Several San Diego defenders commented about how they felt like they knew what was coming from Cincinnati's offense.
In these days that come immediately on the heels of a loss like this one, it's easy to do the knee-jerk thing and isolate parties for blame. But like the Bengals said to a man, this defeat isn't on any one person. It's on the entire team. The offensive line that had been so good all year didn't block well. The defensive line couldn't stop a running back. Cincinnati's own running back had a timely turnover. It's receiver also didn't go up high for a ball that could have led to a touchdown that might have sparked a comeback. A few safeties, corners and linebackers missed plays in pass coverage and missed even more tackles.
This loss was on all of the Bengals. And for that reason, their season has now ended.
Here's how others examined Cincinnati's final game of the 2013 season:
Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson wrote about how once again the Bengals were left searching for the postseason formula. It's one that has eluded and evaded them for 23 seasons now. Cincinnati still hasn't won a playoff game since the 1990 season.
What is that formula? Are there answers for it? The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. writes about how there are no easy answers nor quick fixes. Like most of the players said, the talent is there, the pieces are there. They just simply have to win the game.
In the end, Cincinnati earned better than what it received, Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty says. This was a team that appeared to have a long postseason run and a new chapter to its destiny laid out before it. All it had to do was win. And for a half, it looked like it would. For a team that achieved so much in the regular season, this first-round defeat was simply deflating.
For a team that felt it was finely-tuned this year to end its playoff misfortune, all that exists within is disappointment, Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen says.
When it comes to playing in the playoffs, Cincinnati's primary focus has revolved around one thing: earning respect. At least, that's according to the New York Times' Ben Spigel. While the Bengals are still trying to earn it, the Chargers just did.