The Bengals are now 8-1 after losing in embarrassing fashion on Monday Night Football to the Texans. In a game that was controlled by the defenses, Cincinnati couldn't do enough to overcome far too many mistakes committed throughout the contest. Here's what I'm thinking after the Bengals' first setback of 2015.
1. Bengals fold under bright lights
This has been one of the biggest complaints of the Bengals for much of the Marvin Lewis regime, particularly over the last five years with Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback. They did nothing to dispel this notion with their performance Monday night as they spent four quarters shooting themselves in the foot as they mustered up just six points in a 10-6 loss and were shutout in the second half at home.
The defense played a great game overall, which only speaks more to how bad the offense was all around. Andy Dalton was erratic, Tyler Eifert dropped seemingly every pass that came his way, receivers didn't get open against a decent Texans secondary, and A.J. Green fumbled in a key situation, which isn't a new scenario.
Nothing seemed to work all night outside of Giovani Bernard, and that cannot happen on this offense with so many good players on the team. This loss is only going to leave lingering doubt as to whether the Bengals can get it done when the games count most later on.
2. Bounce-back possible this week
It's rare a team gets a chance to bounce back from a disastrous primetime showing less than a week later, but that's exactly what the Bengals get to do in Arizona next Sunday. That game will be on Sunday Night Football as the red-hot Cardinals host the Bengals following their big win in Seattle this past Sunday.
The national media will be hyping up Arizona while slamming Cincinnati this week. As bad as Monday's loss was, the Bengals can make up for it with a big win on the road against a possible Super Bowl contender. It's hard to ask for anything more after a debacle like we saw Monday.
Sunday will be the first time we see Dalton face Carson Palmer since he's led the Arizona offense, so that alone should make this a fun game. The last time the Bengals faced Palmer he was the Raiders' quarterback and the Bengals dominated the game with a final score of 34-10.
3. As the Offense goes, so too does Andy Dalton
Monday night was a reminder that Andy Dalton isn't an elite quarterback. He played like he'd become elite because he finally had an elite supporting cast in Eifert, Green, Marvin Jones, and the rest of the offense. When those guys aren't having good nights, Dalton isn't good enough to will this team to wins.
Dalton simply isn't Tom Brady, Peyton Manning (not this year) or Drew Brees, guys who can make their offenses better even when their supporting casts aren't good. If Dalton's supporting cast is struggling, he struggles. That doesn't mean this team can't win a Super Bowl. It just simply means this team doesn't have as much of a margin of error as others may have.
4. Defense is playing great
As bad as the offense played Monday night, the defense has been playing lights-out the past three weeks. They've now allowed just 10 points in three straight weeks while getting nine sacks and forcing four turnovers and allowing just three touchdowns passes.
That's the kind of defense Bengals fans became accustomed to seeing under Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator. To think that Paul Guenther is now getting his unit close to that level with the offense having the potential to put up 30-plus points like they were before Monday night is very scary for the rest of the NFL.
This Sunday may be their toughest test of the season when they take on a Cardinals offense that's easily one of the best units in the league. If the Bengals' defense plays well against them, it really bodes well for this team going forward.
5. Be happy for 8-1
Let's face it, the Bengals were playing with house money on Monday night. No one saw them being 8-1, especially after winning many close games (Chargers, Seahawks, Ravens, Steelers). So what if the Bengals had a bad performance and lost to an average-at-best team?
What I'm more worried about is the result of games in which they play well. So far, the Bengals are undefeated when they play to their potential, which sounds obvious, but not a lot of teams in the NFL can make that claim. At their best, this Bengals team can go head-to-head with the NFL's best, and at the end of the day, that's what really matters.
You're ultimately judged in this league more by how well you play against the best, not how poorly you play against bad teams.