Bengals came undone by rash of injuries, defensive failings

The Bengals were 4-1 before a loss at Pittsburgh started a slide that saw them lose seven of eight and surrender 33.4 points per game. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

The Cincinnati Bengals ended the season with a 16-13 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers to finish at 6-10. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Below average. Expectations weren’t high for the Bengals coming into the 2018 season. In fact, they’ll finish with a record similar to what many pundits predicted. However, it is a disappointment because the Bengals started the campaign 4-1 and seemed prepared to make a playoff run for the first time since the 2015 season. However, they came out of their bye week with five straight losses and got blown out by several teams. They’ll miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

Season in review: Bad luck surrounded the Bengals from the beginning, as their best players couldn’t stay on the field. They lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton, their best receiver in A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, middle linebacker Preston Brown and a number of others. Meanwhile, fans had long grown frustrated with the Marvin Lewis regime and stopped showing up to home games. This will be a season to forget in Cincinnati.

He said it: “It is very frustrating. I have never been a part of a losing program. I am never going to get comfortable with being part of it. At the end of the day, I am going to take it for what it is this year, build and try to get better and get ready for next year. ... I promise you, we are not going to be in this for long and that is a fact.” -- Bengals running back Joe Mixon

Offseason questions

Will Marvin Lewis be coaching the Bengals in 2019? Lewis’ future has been a question mark for the past several years, and it’s certainly no different with the Bengals out of the playoffs again. Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record will always be a stain on his tenure, and fans seem to be fed up with the status quo. Although Lewis, the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, is signed through the 2019 season, this certainly could be the year the franchise moves forward without him.

What is Vontaze Burfict’s future? Burfict signed a contract extension last season, but it has been a failure so far, marked by suspensions and injuries. What’s more concerning is Burfict’s history of head injuries. He sustained his seventh concussion and second in a month against the Cleveland Browns last week. All of those factors could mean the Bengals part ways with him. However, the Bengals never found a real backup plan behind Burfict, and the younger linebackers haven’t panned out. Preston Brown’s contract also is up this season, so the Bengals need to figure out how to revamp that group if those two aren’t in their future.

How can the defense be fixed? The Bengals do have some of the components necessary for a good defense. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap were signed to extensions, while cornerback William Jackson and safety Jessie Bates are talented young players who could be the next generation of Cincinnati Pro Bowlers. The defense fell apart this season for a number of reasons: Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired before the season was over, the defensive line didn’t get enough pressure and tackling was an issue. The biggest priority, though, is the linebacker position.