Sidelines with John Clay

Cincinnati Bengals: Five takeaways from a 1-2 start

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, center, is sacked by Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, behind, during the second half of the Bengals’ 29-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, center, is sacked by Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, behind, during the second half of the Bengals’ 29-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Cincinnati. Associated Press

Five takeways from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 29-17 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday:

1. An usually slow start

The Bengals won their first eight games last season. They started 5-2-1 in 2014. They won six of their first eight in 2013. This year is edging towards the exception to the recent rule what with Cincinnati losing its first two out of three, including the last two.

“I’ve been 3-5 and made the playoffs,” said offensvie tackle Andrew Whitworth, referencing the 2012 season. “I’m not too concerned about that. I’m concerned that we haven’t made enough plays to win these games. That’s going to be crucial the rest of the season.”

“We were unable to win the football game in the fourth quarter,” said the coach, Marvin Lewis. “That’s the part we’ve got to do a better job of there.”

Indeed, things seem just a bit off for the 2016 Bengals. They needed a late field goal to win the opener 23-22 over the Jets in New York. They gave a curiously uninspired effort at Pittsburgh, falling behind by 15 points before making it respectable at the end in a 24-16 loss last week.

Sunday’s best example came in the fourth quarter with Cincinnati trailing 22-17. On a third-and-three from the Bengals own 32-yard line, quarterback Andy Dalton threw to his All-Pro receiver A.J. Green on the left sideline. The throw was on target. The pass was dropped, however.

“I pride myself on being one of the best and I didn’t show up today,” said Green, who caught eight passes for 77 yards. “That’s going to bother me all year. I can’t drop a ball like that in a crucial moment.”

2. More undisciplined play

“We killed ourselves today with penalties,” Lewis said. “We can’t do that. We can’t let that happen. We allowed the drives to continue on third down.”

That was true on the Broncos first scoring drive, a 14-play, 73-yard match. On a third-and-11, Bengals linebacker Karlos Dansby was called for a personal foul when he made helmet-to-helmet contact with Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian. Later, on a third-and-four at the Cincinnati nine-yard line, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was called for illegal contact giving Denver a first down. The Broncos kicked a field goal.

In the second quarter, safety George Iloka was called for holding on a third-and-one at the Bengals 46. Denver ended up scoring a touchdown for a 16-14 lead just 28 seconds before the start of the fourth quarter.

“Probably in every scoring drive they had there was a third-down conversion by penalty,” said Lewis, who was just a bit off, but you get the point.

3. A weaker secondary

Denver didn’t need a Cincinnati penalty to execute the biggest third down play of the game. On third-and-11 from the Broncos 45, Siemian threw a perfect pass to Demaryius Thomas for a 55-yard score that made it 29-17 with 4:23 remaining, basically sealing the deal.

Cincinnati cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris had decent coverage on the play, but didn’t (a) was a step behind and (b) didn’t locate the ball.

Without safety Reggie Nelson and nickleback Leon Hall, the Bengals appear weaker in the secondary. Dre Kirkpatrick wiffed on a Emanuel Sanders’ move near the goal-line that proved costly on the scoring drive that put Denver up 22-17. Safeties Shawn Williams and Derron Smith are works in progress. Backup corner Darqueze Dennard has been battling a hamstring issue.

Showing nice poise and accuracy, Siemian picked the Bengals apart, hitting on 23 of 35 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating: A sterling 132.1.

Any technical explanations for the Bengals’ problems on defense?

“We gave up a big touchdown pass,” Lewis said. “We gave up a third-down conversion drive on the outside. It’s third-and-10 or third-and-eight and you give up a touchdown pass, you lose the game.”

4. Missing the big chance

Up 16-14 at halftime, the Bengals got a big break early in the second half, recovering a Denver fumble at the Broncos’ 37-yard line. A touchdown and the home team makes it a two-score game. A field goal and the lead is extended to five points.

“It was a big opportunity, obviously. One first down and you’ve got a legitimate shot at a field goal,” Lewis said. “We take the big sack on the first down play, then we get pressured on second down play and third down we’ve got nowhere to go with it.”

First down, Denver’s Shane Ray, the former Missouri star, sacked Dalton for an eight-yard loss. Second down, here came Ray again, throwing Dalton to the ground for a four-yard loss. The Bengals ended up punting from their own 47-yard line. Opportunity lost.

5. Short week? Good

The Bengals have to rebound in a hurry. The Miami Dolphins come to town for a Thursday night game.

“Honestly, that’s a good thing,” Whitworth said. “It gives us a chance to go forward to Thursday night. We know we’ve got to scratch, claw and fight to get to 2-2 and get ourselves in a position to not have a negative first month of the season.”

“It’s good to get back in play Thursday,” Green said. “Especially me. I’m ready to get back to practice after my performance today. Can’t have a drop like that.”

Said Dalton, “There’s no time to think about this one, you’ve got to move on.”

Cincinnati Bengals 2016 schedule

Date

Opponent

Cin

Opp

Dec

Rec

9/11

@NY Jets

23

22

W

1-0

9/18

@Pittsburgh

16

24

L

1-1

9/25

Denver

17

29

L

1-2

9/29

Miami

10/9

@Dallas

10/16

@New England

10/23

Cleveland

10/30

vsWashington

11/6

bye

11/14

@NY Giants

11/20

Buffalo

11/27

@Baltimore

12/4

Philadelphia

12/11

@Cleveland

12/18

Pittsburgh

12/24

@Houston

1/1

Baltimore

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