The Bengals are 3-4-1 and have yet to beat a team with a winning record. But here’s what we learned about them in this latest demonstration.
CINCINNATI — We are eight weeks in to the NFL season—the halfway point—and we still have no idea who the Bengals are or what they’re about.
The latest evidence in an already blurry picture came Sunday at Wembly Stadium in London, England. Before 84,448 witnesses the Bengals played the Washington Redskins to a 27-27 tie.
Now, the very fact that an NFL game can result in a tie is just about as ludicrous as baseball’s All-Star game determining home field advantage in the World Series, but we must begrudgingly acknowledge that our games—like our nation—is not guided by our best and brightest.
But what did we learn about the Bengals in this latest demonstration?
We learned that they are capable of giving away an entire quarter—the first in this case—and still manage to make a game of it before eventually squandering the lead.
We saw, once again, that they can not keep from committing thoughtless penalties which extend drives and permit more scoring opportunities.
Of the things they lack, discipline under fire might be the most debilitating.
It was obvious—again—that the offensive line has glaring holes and cannot protect the quarterback. Andy Dalton, who prospers despite being harried, hurried and knocked about, was sacked four times.
But that said, Dalton also threw an interception and, more egregiously, fumbled the ball away on a 3rd-and-1 situation when victory was within their grasp.
Dalton’s counterpart, Kirk Cousins shredded the Bengals defense. He completed 38 of 56 attempts for 458 yards, frolicking about studying his options until one or the other found open ground in the secondary.
On that point, it would also appear that opposing receivers and running backs are greasing their uniforms or applying some slippery substance that aids their elusiveness. Otherwise, how do they escape so many attempts to tackle them? Surely, this begs some investigation.
Which brings us to the duly heralded A.J. Green, a magnificent receiver who rises to nearly each and every occasion. Can it be any more obvious that the man needs help, another threat or two beyond that posed by Tyler Eifert?
Cousins had more targets than Craftsman has tools, and he used them. In the first half alone, he completed three or more passes to five different receivers. Overall, he connected with nine different players, three of whom had 93 yards or more.
There was also the curious matter of penalties. The Redskins committed 15 penalties for 106 yards and remained in the game. They actually led three times: 7-0, 10-7 and 24-20. Doesn’t seem likely, does it?
And while it as disdainful to criticize kickers as it is closers,” ace relievers who come in from the bullpen in the most stressful situations and generally get the job done, this was a case where a missed extra point probably meant the game.
Early in the third quarter, Dalton hit Eifert for 16 yards and a touchdown giving the Bengals a 13-10 lead. On came Mike Nugent, generally money in the bank, not to mention being a genuine stand-up guy, and he pulls it wide left.
In this case, that single point could have been the difference in the game, but it wasn’t because so many other things went wrong.
The Bengals scored on back-to-back possessions building a 20-10 lead, but then Domata Peko is hit with a personal foul and a 15-yard penalty and here goes Washington—Cousins to Jordan Reed and it’s a three-point game, 20-17.
Then, the Skins pop another one, 33 yards to Jamison Crowder and it’s 24-20 Washington, and all the while there’s one failure after another in the very basic football fundamental of open field tackling.
Eifert and Green come up big, setting up Jeremy Hill for a 1-yard touchdown, and a 27-24 lead. A 40-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins ties it and they go to OT.
Washington had a chance to win it in overtime, but Marvin Lewis “freezes” Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins and, on the subsequent attempt, he misses a 34-yard game winner, his second miss of the day. Up until Sunday, he had missed two all season.
On this day, there was plenty enough funk to go around.
The Bengals stand 3-4-1. They have yet to win a game against an opponent with a winning record.
Afterward, there wasn’t a whole lot to say.
Green, who ended up with his fourth 100-yard game (9-for-121 yards) of the season, said it best and said it for all. “We let this one slip away,” he said. “We had control of this one in the second half, and we just let it get away.”
And, as always, there was Lewis and his 13-year-old refrain.
“We had opportunities to win the football game, but we didn’t get it done,” he said.
“You’ve got to keep fighting, keep playing until the game is over. They would hit a big play and we would hang our heads. You can’t do that. You’ve got to keep playing. We didn’t do that.”
The words are as tired as the play on the field.