Maybe they needed another week of pre-season.
Or another exhibition game. Or another month of the off-season. Or another day of preparation. Or another, well, something, anything.
After all, any way you slice this rotten tomato, the Cincinnati Bengals opened their 2017 NFL season before 55,254 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday with a downright dud, blanked 20-0 by AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens.
“My fault,” Andy Dalton said. “I didn’t play well at all.”
Uh, no, he did not. The seventh-year quarterback out of TCU threw not one, not two, not three, but four interceptions and lost a fumble on a game tape he will surely want to burn at the first possible opportunity.
“No,” Dalton said, “I’ll watch it as soon as I get home.”
That’s because as bad as Sunday was, the Bengals have no time to mope what with a Thursday night date with the Houston Texans at PBS, 8:25 p.m. on the NFL Network. The Texans also tripped badly on their first step, losing 29-7 at home to Jacksonville.
“I think it’s good that we have a short week,” said Dalton.
“It’s good that we have Thursday night to get back on the field,” said wide receiver A.J. Green.
“We have to move on,” said Dalton, who last threw four interceptions on Dec. 29, 2013 also against the Ravens.
Truth be told, even before Sunday’s failure to launch, there was not a general consensus as to whether the Bengals could move on from last year’s 6-9-1 record. There was the loss of bedrock offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and offensive guard Kevin Seitzer to free agency and the suspensions of linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Andrew Jones.
Yet surely no one could have expected such a sorry start, especially not with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco starting the season without benefit of a single pre-season snap because of injury.
Flacco enjoyed a light workload, completing nine of 17 passes for 121 yards. He attempted two passes in the second half, completing neither. Dalton was the one who looked covered in rust.
Cincinnati’s second series, down 3-0, ball at the Baltimore 39, a Dalton pass for Green on the right side was tipped and intercepted by Raven’s defensive back Brandon Carr. That was one.
Next series, the Bengals were at the Baltimore nine-yard line when Dalton tried to connect with Brandon LaFell in the back of end zone only to have the throw picked off by linebacker C.J. Mosley. That was two.
“I thought I could throw it over him,” said Dalton. “Obviously, I didn’t get it high enough.”
Later in the second quarter, down 10-0, Dalton’s pass inside his own 20-yard line was tipped by the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs and caught by teammate Lardarius Webb, who returned it to the Cincinnati two-yard line. That was three. (And the Ravens scored the very next play.)
First series of the second half, Dalton was hit from behind and coughed up the football, which was recovered by defensive tackle Michael Pierce. That was turnover No. 4.
Finally, down 20-0, Dalton’s throw for Green instead found Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith. That was pick No. 4, turnover No. 5.
“We knew coming into the football game we couldn’t hurt ourselves with turnovers,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “It’s as disappointing as disappointing can be.”
Here’s what would be more disappointing: Turning one grimace game into two. After suffering just the second opening-game shutout in their 50 years of existence – 1979 brought the first with a 10-0 loss at Denver – the Bengals can’t afford to start 0-2.
“It’s a long, long season,” said Green, who ended up with five catches for 74 yards. “There’s a lot of football to play. A lot of crazy things happen on week one.”
“We’ve got 15 more games to play,” Dalton said. “We can’t let this game determine the season.”
Cincinnati Bengals 2017 schedule