The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t finding any solace in the reminder they opened with back-to-back losses last year and still ended up a play away from a return to the Super Bowl.
Coming off a loss in their opener for a second straight season, the Bengals are focused on rebounding from Sunday’s 24-3 defeat at Cleveland to collect a win in Week 2 against another AFC North foe. The Bengals (0-1) host the Baltimore Ravens (1-0) this Sunday at Paycor Stadium.
The loss to the Browns already has Cincinnati in catch-up mode in the division.
“We’re going to get better from that experience, move onto Baltimore and win this big division game,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said Monday. “We’re 0-1 in the division to start, which is not where you want to be, and we’re putting it behind us, correcting it and moving on. That’s all you can do at this point.”
Cincinnati lost its opener last year in overtime against Pittsburgh, then went on the road and dropped a second straight three-point game at Dallas. The Bengals bounced back to win their next two but went into the Week 10 bye at 5-4.
That didn’t keep them from a return to the AFC Championship, but once again they were on the road for their final two playoff games as the No. 3 seed and this time the run ended in Kansas City, one game too soon. Hubbard said the players know those early games don’t define the season but can impact how it ends.
“It’s tough,” Hubbard said. “You want to start fast. You want to do great. Last year our quarterback was in the hospital all camp. He’s got his stuff going on this year, an injury he can’t control. It’s the way it is in the NFL. There’s going to be adversity. There’s ups and downs in every season. You can’t let a slow start define you. You’ve got to continue to keep grinding and keep getting better every week.
“It’s the most important football at the end of the year, but at the same time, you want to start fast and put yourself into position. As a leader, you’ve got to look onward and can’t think your season is over because of a slow start and things you can’t control. So we’re not down. We’re going to keep getting better and focus on what we can do to improve as a team.”
Hubbard felt like the defense played well but “definitely not good enough to get the win (because of) too many yards on explosives” and other things the Bengals can clean up. Coach Zac Taylor had said in his postgame press conference that the game was not representative of who they are. Hubbard attributed that to a combination of the offense not having reps or timing down with quarterback Joe Burrow and the rain making things even more challenging against a good team.
Burrow struggled to get the passing game on track. Even the third-and-short situations that proved to be a strong suit in the past were an issue. The Bengals converted just one of seven third-and-short situations and finished with 142 yards of offense.
“It was just kind of sloppy overall,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Monday. “A lot of that had to do with the weather. The passing game didn’t go great. Not converting enough third downs to really get any rhythm going offensively. Ultimately, we tried to run the ball a little bit early on. We were pretty balanced that first part of the game, and then without converting third downs, you don’t get more opportunities to hand the ball off. I think we had seven three-and-outs or something like that. So just not enough consistency in the passing game really sort of held us back. There’s a lot of factors that went into it, but weather was definitely one of ‘em. And it’s a good defense.”
Callahan said he didn’t see any signs in practice last week that communication would be an issue for the offense or that such a poor performance was coming. Taylor thought the communication aspect improved throughout the game, but it was clear players on offense were not on the same page, particularly Burrow and his receivers.
Taylor noted that Burrow, who had missed five weeks of practices with a strained right calf, came out of the game healthy, and that seemed to be the case for the rest of the team, depending on soreness that might be reported Monday.
The Bengals had taken into consideration in the play-calling and game planning that Burrow was coming back from a calf injury in less than ideal conditions with the rain, but Burrow said afterward his calf “was good enough” — not exactly a ringing endorsement for a fully healthy calf. Callahan wasn’t sure what to make of Burrow’s comment but said he seemed fine to play.
The Ravens, with their history as a strong blitzing defense, could look to take advantage of that if there is any question as to whether Burrow is fully healthy or not.
“I don’t know what it feels like for him, and if he says he is good to go and he’s not worried about anything happening to it and he goes and plays, the expectation is he’s good enough to play,” Callahan said. “And what degree that is percentage-wise of health, I don’t know. He seemed fine all week. I thought he played pretty well in the game and didn’t seem like it really affected his ability to move in the pocket. Thought he did fine from that regard. So you’d have to ask him more specifically on how he felt health-wise, but it looked okay to me to go play.”
Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7,104.7