The Cincinnati Bengals were a thoroughly average team during the 2021 season when it came to third-down offense. They converted about 40 percent of their third-down attempts, which ranked 16th in the NFL. If they had mustered even that inside of SoFi Stadium on Sunday, perhaps they would be shining up a Lombardi right now.
The AFC North champions went just 3-for-14 on third down during the Super Bowl. They also went 1-for-3 on fourth-down conversion attempts. They faced only two short-yardage situations on possessions downs on which they attempted to run the ball by design.
Samaje Perine got the carry on both of those attempts, and was the target on the final 4th-and-1 play, despite having a Pro Bowl featured running back in Joe Mixon. Head coach Zac Taylor took the blame for the last rush, at least, a 3rd-and-1 attempt near midfield, trailing 23-20, with 48 seconds to play.
How’s this for accountability? Zac Taylor on why Samaje Perine was in over Joe Mixon at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/LpLZHf39PZ
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) February 16, 2022
“We were in two-minute mode and Samaje has done a great job” in that situational role, he said. “His role has really been as a protecting back and a lot of the things that come with that, off of that. It’s one of those situations where I called the play a little later on the clock”.
“I was the one that said leave him in there. Justin Hill, our running backs coach, asked if we wanted to make a change. I said, ‘Just leave Samaje in there’”, Taylor specified. “Obviously, it didn’t work out for us. Whether Joe is in there or not, he’s certainly deserving of the opportunity in a key moment in a key game to try to get it for us as our featured back”.
Mixon rushed for 1,205 yards on the season on 292 attempts with 13 rushing touchdowns (and another three receiving touchdowns). He rushed for 262 yards during the postseason with one touchdown. During the regular season, he had 12 rushing attempts on 3rd or 4th and 1, and he got the needed yardage eight times, including two scores (he went 0-for-4 on rushes needing two yards to gain, though he picked up a yard on each, all on third down). Perine had zero such rushing attempts.
“That’s just one of the decisions you make in the moment and you’ve got to move forward with it”, Taylor said. “There’s other things I certainly could have done over the course of the game that would have put us in a better position. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done”.
Perine is a five-year veteran in his third season with the Bengals. He has 1,198 rushing yards in his career on 306 attempts with five touchdowns. While the majority of his touchdowns have come with the Bengals, most of his attempts and yardage came while in Washington for two seasons, primarily his rookie season. He has 63 receptions for 449 yards and two scores.
Both sequences ended in the Bengals turning the ball over on downs. An early 3rd and 1 failure saw the Bengals follow up with a deep shot, incomplete, to Ja’Marr Chase near midfield on their opening drive. The second, of course, cost them the game.