Joe Burrow’s calf continues to be an issue in the offense’s struggles, but the defense was just as bad in this one, and now another key player is hurt after Tee Higgins exited in the first half with a rib injury.
Here are five takeaways from the loss.
1. Defense can’t get stops
The Titans scored points on five of their first six drives, including the three straight touchdowns to take a 24-3 lead into halftime, and Cincinnati just couldn’t get off the field defensively.
Penalties negated a couple big stops on third down, including a DJ Reader sack taken away by a Germaine Pratt hold that would have forced Tennessee to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown in the second quarter. Tennessee got three first downs by penalty.
The Titans tacked on a field goal the opening drive of the second half after eating up more than 10 minutes of the clock, and that sealed the game. Tennessee finished with 400 net yards of offense, including 122 yards rushing and a touchdown for Derrick Henry, who also threw a touchdown pass. Ryan Tannehill threw for 240 yards and one touchdown.
Cincinnati’s run defense especially seems to have taken a step back this season. Sunday was the third time an opponent had at least 170 yards rushing.
2. Offensive woes concerning
Burrow completed 20 of 30 passes for 165 yards, and the offense still hasn’t recorded a touchdown before halftime through four games. The last team to go four games without a first-half touchdown was the 2019 Jets.
Cincinnati converted just two of nine third downs, and Burrow had one turnover on a strip sack in the fourth quarter. Higgins left the game before halftime and was declared out in the third quarter because of a rib injury, which NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting to be a fracture that could keep him out for an extended period of time.
Joe Mixon continues to run the ball efficiently when given opportunities, but with the team falling so far behind, his opportunities have been limited. He had 14 carries for 67 yards (4.8 yards per carry) on Sunday.
3. Bengals taking risks with Burrow
The Bengals already are playing Burrow on a calf that is not 100 percent, but the decision to keep him in the game in the fourth quarter while down 24 points seemed like an unnecessary risk.
Cincinnati had two drives in the fourth quarter and never turned to Jake Browning, even with Burrow taking hits and seeing pressure much of the game. He was sacked three times and hurried nine other times.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said in his postgame press conference they were trying to make a comeback and that was why Burrow stayed in the game. The final drive for the offense began with 10:31 left and the hole was too big to climb at that point. Burrow said in his postgame press conference there was never any discussion of coming out, but admitted it was a point of pride to finish out the game.
4. One area of improvement
After a rough start to his NFL career, rookie punter Brad Robbins may have turned a corner with his performance Sunday. He averaged 51.4 yards per punt with a long of 62 and had one touchback.
The former Michigan punter had one 40-yard punt that went out of bounds in the fourth quarter, but otherwise he was solid and did his part to try to pin Tennessee deep in its own territory. One 49-yard punt to the Titans’ 10-yard line ended up with an 11-yard return and then a 10-yard penalty tacked on from an illegal block above the waist.
Robbins averaged 41.1 yards per punt the first three games and ranked worst in the league in punter expected punt average/punt above expected stats.
5. Tough hill to climb
It’s still early, but a 1-3 record sounds much worse than 2-2 would have been, and historically teams that start this slowly have trouble making the playoffs. Only 14 percent of teams that start 1-3 have made the playoffs in the past.
However, the Bengals travel to play Arizona next week, and it could be a good opportunity to bounce back as the Cardinals are still without Kyler Murray. A win would put them in the same position they were in after five weeks last year, although Cincinnati was 2-2 before dropping a third loss.
The Bengals need to find a rhythm soon, though. They look nothing like a team that has aspirations of hosting an AFC Championship.
Bengals at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7