photo credit Mike Cyrus
(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – Cincinnati’s 26-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was downright incriminating—an epic rally from two touchdowns down to tie the score, only to lose it on a last-second field goal. For Bengals fans, it was heartbreak as usual. The Cardinals (1-3-1) outgained Cincinnati 514-370 in total yards, giving first-year Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury his inaugural professional victory…and leaving Zac Taylor still hungering for his.
“We didn’t do enough to get it done,” said the Bengals rookie coach. “It was frustrating because we felt like it was right there. The momentum was swinging our way there in the fourth quarter. All three phases were making plays there to get us back in it. They (Arizona) just made the plays there in that last drive to put them in position to kick that field goal to win the game.”
Andy Dalton is now 0-5 to start the season for the first time in his career. More alarming is his lack of productivity. Against the Cardinals in the first half, the wretched rifle was 4-10 for a measly 22 yards. In his defense, he was already without John Ross—his fastest wide receiver—out 6-8 weeks with a sternoclavicular joint injury. Losing Alex Erickson to a concussion in the half only added to his woes. Give him credit, though, Dalton finished a respectable 27 of 38 for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns after the dust had settled.
Running back Joe Mixon also gave the ground attack a bit of a spark, rushing 19 times for 93 yards. Most of those successes came early on, as the running game inexplicably shut down in the second half.
Contrary to the notion that the Bengals can’t stop anyone, the defense entering the game under first-year coordinator Lou Anarumo was pretty much middle of the pack. They were 14th in third-down efficiency. They had the 13th best touchdown percentage in the red zone. They had created more turnovers than 14 other teams. They were 17th in yards per rush. In other words, it seemed like they were making progress.
Against the Cardinals, Anarumo’s troops regressed a bit—melting down on the last Cardinal drive leading to the heartbreaking field goal as time ran out. Rookie Cardinal quarterback Tyler Murray accounted for 346 of the team’s 517 total yards. It’ll only get tougher from here for Cincinnati’s defense as they face the Ravens, Jaguars, and Rams prior to their merciful bye in week number nine.
Zac Taylor’s snazzy, innovative offense system was supposed to blow into Paul Brown Stadium like a breath of fresh air. Instead it’s been a royal bust. Granted, he’s had some really bad luck with injuries to his offensive line—and having AJ Green, your star receiver, go down early in training camp with an ankle injury didn’t help matters at all. But not only has the culture not improved during Taylor’s tenure…it’s even worse now than it was during the last chapters of Marvin’s reign of futility.
Look no further than exhibit number one. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Monday night, it was déjà vu all over again as the Bengals pooped the bed in prime time. Not only did they lose convincingly 27-3, their supposedly groundbreaking offensive scheme experienced a total systems failure. Andy Dalton lost 69 yards on a whopping eight sacks. For good measure, he fumbled once and threw another interception in the end zone. The entire offense rushed for a measly 73 yards.
This is a professional franchise that has now lost nine in a row and 12 of the last 13 to the hated Steelers. They’re also 6-16 in prime-time games since Dalton entered the league.
Exhibit number two this afternoon before the 46,012 in attendance was hauntingly convicting. The Cincinnati offense has cracked the end zone just twice since week 3. It’s one thing to be winless in the league, but being winless with no semblance of hope for improvement raises multiple alarm bells.
“I get it,” said Taylor when asked what he wanted to say to the frustrated fan base. “This is every fan base I’ve ever been around. They want to see wins. They want to see production. We haven’t given it to them yet. They think they’re frustrated—check our locker room. We’re frustrated. We’ve worked so hard for this stuff, and it just hasn’t come yet.”
“The day that it comes, and it flips, it’s going to be good times around here,” Taylor continued. “Just hang with us and we’ll be there.”
This loss to the previously winless Cardinals was the best chance for Cincinnati to at least gain a sliver of confidence that Taylor’s new regime was something the fans could get excited about. Now with the loss, it looks as if it were all false advertising. I felt a distinct pall of doom descend over Paul Brown Stadium as Bengals fans filed out.
It’s the worst of times. It can only get better from here, right?