Despite winless start, Bengals still believe they’re ‘trending upward’

Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz (11) tries to escape from Cincinnati Bengals' Carl Lawson (58) as Jason Peters (71) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

While the Cincinnati Bengals were disappointed they had to settle for a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, nose tackle D.J. Reader said it didn’t feel like a complete loss as others on the team indicated.

That’s because he can see how close the Bengals are to getting over that hump.

Cincinnati is still looking for its first win after losing the first two games by a combined eight points and then finishing in a 23-23 tie with the Eagles after giving up a touchdown with 21 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

“The effort to finish up with that product, you felt like you just didn’t get it done,” Reader said. “It’s like if you wanted an A on a paper and you got a B. You felt like you settled for less. But, the mental (aspect) of did we lose that game? No, we didn’t. There were plenty of times we could have. There are plenty of times where you turn around and say, ‘We didn’t get this play down. We’re going to fold up the day,’ and it didn’t feel like that. It felt like a win in the aspect of just changing, fighting. You’ve got to fight every play. You’ve got to scratch and claw and do whatever you’ve got to do to get a win.”

The Bengals have to learn how to finish games, Reader said, but “everybody is on board” and putting in the work behind the scenes to improve.

Cincinnati has given up points in the final two minutes of four halves this season, including the last 21 seconds of both the first and second halves Sunday. That’s something the defense will continue to address, heading into Week 4 as the Bengals prepare to host the Jaguars on Sunday.

“I think it’s just mental lapse, knowing where you are in the game, knowing what’s going on, being better at situational football,” Reader said. “I think that all plays into it. That’s just the job all of us have to get better at, just knowing what the situation is, talking ball more with each other, more in the huddle before those types of opportunities.”

Defensive end Carl Lawson said the defense has to buckle down and not give up big plays in the two-minute situations, but the offense has to finish, as well. The Bengals have settled for too many field goals and left points on the table that could have been the difference in a win and a loss or tie.

Asked if winning is something that needs taught, Lawson indicated this team is still learning how to do that after going 2-14 last year.

“It’s very frustrating when you don’t win,” Lawson said. “It’s a team effort. You can sit there and flip it back to Cleveland and we didn’t play so hot and the offense put some points up. It’s a team effort. We gotta learn to finish as a team and then I feel like we could really take off. We got talent on all levels, so if we just learn how to finish, learn how to win in the fourth quarter. That’s when a lot of games are decided in the NFL. We just need to learn how to win and we can elevate.”

Lawson said the culture that Zac Taylor is trying to implement -- and that players are buying into -- won’t fully come to fruition until the Bengals start winning games.

Marvin Lewis had his philosophy, but the culture he had built “kinda ended up breaking down as time went,” and now Taylor is working to build his culture. Players are buying in, and the ones that were part of the breakdown under Lewis are no longer here.

“I think it’s trending upward,” Lawson said. “We got a lot of guys that want to come in here and work. I think we were a really young team last year. They brought some vets in here, my experience as well. It’s going well. It’s coming up. It takes time, but unfortunately in the NFL you don’t have much time. You gotta establish it. Trust me, a lot of culture can be implemented when you start winning games.”

The defensive line played its best game of the season Sunday and guys like Lawson can be a big part of turning things around on that side of the ball. Lawson had two sacks and helped the run defense hold the Eagles to 175 yards rushing over five quarters, with 65 of those coming from quarterback Carson Wentz.

Lawson said the return of Mike Daniels on Sunday certainly helped the defensive line, which has been short-handed without Geno Atkins all three games. Daniels had been limited by a groin injury but played 31 percent of the snaps at defensive tackle.

“Every week there’s something I feel like we can do better, but we’re trending upwards,” Lawson said of the defensive line. “We’re improving each week.”

“I think the straight-forward runs, there’s still some stuff we gotta clean up,” he added. “And a lot of our rushing yards come from quarterback scrambles and then we play like five quarters of football. We’re not where we want to be as far as run game goes and I won’t sit there and say that we are, but we’re trying to improve each week.”

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