Bengals Wide Receiver Tee Higgins (5) hauls in a touchdown pass versus the Baltimore Ravens at Paycor Stadium. (Photo Credit: Ryan Meyer/Bengals.com)
By Dr. John Huang
(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – Just two short weeks into the current NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in familiar territory. They’re winless out of the gate against two AFC North divisional foes with some ominous clouds of despair already beginning to circle the fan base.
If stinking up the joint (24 – 3) against Cleveland in their road opener last week wasn’t enough, the Bengals returned to the friendly confines of Paycor Stadium and promptly lost to the Baltimore Ravens 27 – 24 as 66,105 dejected fans looked on.
Is all this early-season concern justified? Should we be reaching for the panic button? After all, Cincinnati started 0 – 2 last year, found their groove quickly, and proceeded to win 12 of their remaining 14 regular-season games. In fact, under head coach Zac Taylor, the team is a combined 1 – 9 in the first two games in each of his five seasons at the helm. In other words, slow starts are par for the course for Taylor and crew.
“The beauty of this team is we know it’s a 17-game season,” Taylor reassured the media in his postgame presser. “There’s no overreaction on our end…When you stumble early, you have to learn from it. So many years in the past, we’ve learned from early-season losses that have propelled us in November and December.”
That may be all well and true, but if you play with fire, you’ll eventually get burned. Two losses won’t doom your path to a successful season, but the way the Bengals offense has sputtered surely may.
Quarterback Joe Burrow, rebounding from his worst performance ever in the rain at Cleveland, recovered with a respectable 27-of 41 pass completions for 222 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore. Wide Receiver Tee Higgins—who sported a goose egg last week—was luckily on the receiving end of those two scores, hauling in eight passes for 89 yards.
“[The rhythm] definitely started coming [in the second half],” Higgins told the media gathered around his locker afterwards. “But as you know, a little too late. We’ve got to get that rhythm early, especially against a team like that. It came a little too late.”
The level-headed Taylor denied that the team was out of sync. He seemed surprisingly pleased with the way the Bengals moved the ball against a tough Ravens defense.
“Outside of two plays on the first two drives, the next five drives we drove down the field for a field goal, touchdown, interception, and then touchdown. It felt like we were finding our rhythm there offensively.”
Granted, Burrow’s critical interception at the goal line cost his team a chance at the lead, but I thought the offense dinked and dunked for too much of the afternoon. Compounding the problem, the Cincinnati defense was on the field for way too long as the Ravens controlled the time of possession (33:04/26:56) with long, methodical drives. If not for Charlie Jones’ 81-yard punt return touchdown to start the 2nd quarter, the game might have gotten out of hand even before halftime.
Given all that, I’d keep the panic button handy—or at least close by. Throw in the uncertainty of Burrow’s potentially nagging calf injury suffered in preseason, and I’d argue that there’s certainly enough worry to go around.
“We’re going to have to wait and see,” Burrow acknowledged when asked directly about re-tweaking his calf muscle. “I’m not sure how it’s going to feel the next couple of days. It’s pretty sore right now, but no telling how it’s going to feel, so I think we’re going to take it day by day.”
As far as the 0 – 2 start, the former Heisman winner mirrored his head coach’s confidence in his team’s ability to bounce back. Asked if there were any commonalities in the start this year versus last (when he missed time due to an appendectomy), Burrow gave a rather telling—but obvious—response.
“Well, when your quarterback misses camp, it’s tough to start fast,” he answered. “So, it’s not an ideal situation.”
Neither is 0 – 2. But as the wise King Solomon once said, “Better a patient man than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”
“Stay patient with us,” Taylor said when asked about what he wanted to tell the fans. “I know that’s hard to say and listen to. They want wins, there’s a lot of excitement going into this season. We still have a lot of excitement. It’s September 17, and we plan on this being a long season. We’ll be excited to make corrections, put this behind us, and have an electric Monday Night Football crowd as we’ve had here.”
Now that sounds like a coach who’s 1 – 9 out of the gate. Patience is a virtue for the head coach. Maybe not so much for the fans. OH, MY!
See you Monday Night.
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently covers the Bengals’ beat for Sports View America. He is the author/coauthor of four books—Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. His latest book, They Call Me Mr. Secretary, is scheduled for a fall release. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs.