Fans felt extremely deflated -- for good reason we might add -- after Cincinnati's 34-3 loss to the Detroit Lions Friday night. Offensively the passing game as a mitigated disaster, with an interception that was all parts to blame; pass protection was poor, preventing Andy Dalton to step into the throw, which was underthrown to A.J. Green, who didn't bother to fight for the ball (at the very least, commit a penalty). Dalton was further abused by Detroit's defensive tackles Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh, beating Nate Livings and Bobbie Williams on passing plays that generated problems for Dalton. And it wasn't all bad. Cedric Benson and the running game was very active and productive. Parts of the defense looked good (specifically the team's defensive tackles and Rey Maualuga) whereas other parts desperately need to get back to work (passing defense).
If Cincinnati's first preseason game was a hint at where the team is during their development for this year, then we can all agree that the Bengals have a long way to go. Yet that's the point. Emotional reactions to the first preseason game of the year is not unlike judging the first five minutes of a movie, or the first chapter of a book. Anything can happen and sometimes you need that time for a story to develop before a thrilling climax. There's just not enough information to justify the end of the world over-reactions right now, considering this was the first game for Jay Gruden, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green; three major components for the offense.
Reaction based on the first preseason game never justifies light speed conclusions with a month of training and development before the first regular season game. During Cincinnati's 10-6 AFC North Championship season in 2009, the Bengals first team offense went fumble, punt and then interception during the team's first preseason game that year. Carson Palmer was intercepted by Asante Samuel on his very first pass against the New England Patriots, Cincinnati's opponent during their first preseason game of the 2005 season. Later that year the Bengals would go on to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record and the AFC North Championship.
Even if fortunes were reversed and it was the Bengals that beat the Lions 34-3, it would be meaningless when you forecast the team's regular season based on a single preseason game. Cincinnati beat the Buffalo Bills 24-17 during the team's preseason opener in 2002; the Bengals finished the season 2-14.
Are we saying that you shouldn't brace for a disaster? No.
However, we've maintained from the very start that expecting anything more than a rebuilding season is simply delusional. Anything more is icing on the cake; a welcome surprise.
The best way to look at the preseason right now is to start by taking Cincinnati's 34-3 loss as a benchmark. Now move forward for the second, third and fourth weeks of the preseason and judge based on their level of improvements each week. After all, that's the whole point of preseason.