Cincinnati Bengals lost more than a game Sunday

(Frank Victores/AP)

As both a host and frequent guest on sports-radio stations around the country, there’s one exercise I’ve grown tremendous enmity for over the years, the Mike Francesa patented ‘Dat’s a win, dat’s a loss” game.

Generally it pops up in April when fans are starved for NFL news and the actual schedule for the upcoming season is released. You go down each game and figure out how close your team is to 16-0, a pointless, ridiculous exercise considering the war of attrition that is an NFL season.

Take a look at the past few weeks.

Maybe if you knew Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman weren’t going to be around in Foxborough for Philadelphia in Week 13, you may have considered the Eagles’ chances as a little more respectable. And perhaps when gauging the Minnesota Vikings and their five-day litmus test against Seattle and Arizona, knowing Mike Zimmer would be without his three best defensive players could have foreshadowed the outcomes.

Or scale back to season-long trends. Without Jordy Nelson and the realization that the rest of the Packers’ receivers are an average group, you probably would have tacked on a few more Ls to Green Bay no matter who was calling the plays. Similarly if you understood Tony Romo wasn’t going to be around for Dallas, it would have been kind of easy to project that the Cowboys weren’t going to be relevant in the NFC East.

Entering Sunday and really dating back to late September, I thought the Cincinnati Bengals were the most well-rounded team in all of football. When the sun came up Monday, the same team wasn’t even in my thought process when trying to formulate the NFL’s best teams heading into the stretch run in advance of the postseason.

The Bengals lost far more than a division game to a heated rival in Week 14, as starting quarterback Andy Dalton went down with a broken thumb while trying to make a tackle after an interception in the first quarter during a 33-20 setback to Pittsburgh.

Marvin Lewis has already admitted his signal caller will miss next week’s game against San Francisco and the organization is hopeful that Dalton gets some good news when he meets with a specialist Monday. The best-case scenario being bandied about is four weeks and the realists in Cincinnati seem to understand what this means, the rest of the 2015 season will move forward with the unproven AJ McCarron under center.

Calls have already been made to street free agents Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder as potential backups to McCarron.

A smart kid with a pedigree for winning cultivated at Alabama, McCarron was able to move the football at times against the Steelers and ended up with 280 passing yards but like all young QBs. He also made his share of mistakes, including a pick-six in which he failed to recognize the blitz on a quick hitch.

McCarron has a chance to be a starter in this league, but throwing him the keys to this sports car just three weeks before the postseason is a recipe for disaster and likely the foreshadowing of yet another first-round postseason loss for Lewis and the franchise.

“You don’t win national championships for no reason,” receiver Marvin Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer when discussing McCarron, who won two national titles at Alabama. “I don’t think it’ll be too much of a gap.”

Dalton has always been a little disrespected in Cincinnati because he’s been unable to lead the Bengals past the first round in four tries. Smarter fans realize his value, however, and the fact that he has turned around a franchise whose reputation was far closer to Cleveland’s than Pittsburgh’s into a perennial playoff threat.

And thanks to an embarrassment of riches around him at the skill positions, Dalton was having a career year before Sunday’s developments, tossing 25 touchdown passes against six interceptions while leading the Bengals to a gaudy 10-2 mark and a potential first-round bye.

Dalton has helped the Bengals put enough in the bank to make the playoffs yet again. When this domino fell, however, so did Cincinnati’s ultimate goal. Just like that “Dat’s a win,” was turned on its head.

“We’re equipped to handle this,” Lewis said, perhaps wary that he needs to keep his team on an even keel. “We’ll see.”

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
Also check @JFMcMullen on Twitter for John’s upcoming appearances on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, YAHOO! Sports Radio Indiana, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP, Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, The Score 1260 in Syracuse, Sirius’ Mad Dog Sports Radio, ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, TSN 1290 in Winnipeg, TSN 690 in Montreal and WNSR in Nashville.

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