To paraphrase the old commercial for a medical alarm, the Bengals have fallen and they can’t get up.
At least not yet.
After a lopsided loss at New England and a bitterly disappointing tie vs. Carolina, the Bengals played their worst all-around game since the 2011 Dalton-Green reboot in a 27-0 defeat at Indianapolis.
“We played horrible,” said Andre Smith. “We didn’t play well in any phase of the game.”
“We’re not playing good football right now,” said Carlos Dunlap. “We’ve got to figure it out and get back to doing what we were doing in the first three games.”
Ah yes, the first three games. Back then, the Bengals were the toast of the NFL having outscored the opposition 80-33. Since then, they’ve been outscored 107-54 over a winless three game stretch and fallen out of at least a share of first place in the AFC North for the first time since the next-to-last game of the 2012 season.
Have we reached a crisis?
“I wouldn’t call it a crisis,” said Dunlap. “We can still be on top of our division if we beat Baltimore (next Sunday), so that’s the biggest goal in mind right now.”
Aside from Kevin Huber averaging 50.7 yards (47.7 net) on 11 punts – tying the team record for most punts in a game – the Bengals didn’t do anything well against the Colts.
“We didn’t attack,” said Marvin Lewis. “We ended up playing from our heels today.”
Especially on offense where the Colts took advantage of injuries to A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert and ganged up on the Bengals at the line of scrimmage.
“They were playing press man-to-man and basically saying, ‘You guys have to beat us down the field.’” said Mohamed Sanu. “We had opportunities there, but we have to capitalize on those opportunities.”
“The Indianapolis Colts had no fear whatsoever of anything being thrown over the top of them,” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “They were just squatting on everything and breaking on underneath routes. It was like fly paper on the shallow crosses or Geo out of the backfield.”
The Bengals entered the game averaging 7.05 yards on first-down plays – best in the NFL. But on Sunday in Indianapolis, Cincinnati averaged a meager 2.6 yards on 14 first-down plays. On their first 10 first-down plays, the Bengals gained more than three yards just once. That led to numerous third-and-long situations where the Colts were able to get pressure on Andy Dalton.
“We ended up third-and-too much,” said Coach Lewis.
“We knew they were a great defense and knew we had our hands full with them,” said Sanu.
In their previous three games, the Colts had held Tennessee (1-for-9), Baltimore (1-for-11), and Houston (1-for-8) to a combined 3-for-28 on third down conversions. Cincinnati finished 1-for-13.
“They have a lot of good rushers that they can move around and do a whole lot of stuff with,” said Andrew Whitworth. “It’s almost like every third down they’ve got guys in totally different spots and they’re all twisting and turning. Today we gave them a great opportunity. It was third and long for the most part and when you do that you’re going to get everybody’s crazy stuff – everything they have in the playbook.”
“We weren’t in rhythm at all,” said Sanu. “We didn’t find ways to make plays that we needed to make and that’s everybody including myself. We cannot play like that.”
Injuries are obviously a major concern. In addition to the missing targets in the passing attack, the Bengals played most of Sunday’s game without all three of their starting linebackers as well as cornerback Leon Hall.
But even with those injuries, the Bengals should be much better than they were in Indianapolis and I continue to believe they are the best team in the AFC North. Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium would be a great time to show it.
“We’re on to the Ravens now,” said Smith. “We’re playing a division game at home next week and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
“We’ve been through struggles like this before and always found a way to bounce back,” said Sanu.
“It’s time to get down to brass tacks and focus and reopen the football season,” said Coach Lewis. “Let’s reopen it at home and get going.”
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