When the Bengals lost to the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, many fans were worried. Others wrote off the loss saying it was "just the preseason" and it doesn't mean anything. Count former Bengals defensive back Solomon Wilcots, who played with the team from 1987-1990, among those who are worried.
"It was clear to me that one team was more focused than the other," Wilcots said when I asked him about the game on Tuesday at The NFL on CBS Media Day. "Lovie, where his team is at right now, coming into a preseason game, they've got everything to prove. That was reminiscent of a Lovie Smith defense, wasn't it? Pressure the quarterback, cover 2 on the backend, and they intercept all tips and overthrows."
The former Bengal is referring to plays like the one where Andy Dalton fired a ball right into A.J. Green's arms and somehow, Green let the ball slip through his hands and get intercepted. And, you can't forget the play just seconds later when Dalton overthrew a pass to Tyler Eifert in the seam and again, was intercepted. The first interception was Green's fault, the second, Dalton's.
"I saw a Bengals team kind of feeling like, hey, we’re accomplished, you know who we are," Wilcots said. "If they don’t understand that no one cares that they’ve been to the playoffs four straight years, they’re going to go on opening day and lose in Oakland. I’m telling you right now. Because Oakland is one of those teams like Tampa, that’s got a lot to prove. Jack Del Rio is going to have those guys ready to play."
Wilcots makes it clear, he's a self-proclaimed "big Bengals guy" but he also says he's a fact-teller. And what he finds most concerning about the Bengals' Monday night loss isn't that they lost, it's the lethargic approach he believes they took in the game, the same lethargic approach he looks back to during the wild card round of the playoffs last season when the Bengals lost to the Colts.
"Jermaine Gresham, no longer with the team, didn’t play. A.J. Green, a future star, how do you not play? And then, to see the way that you're coming into this season," Wilcots says, "I saw the same lethargic attitude and I'm wondering if this team has the fire, if they're pissed off enough to say, we want to be winners in the postseason."
Wilcots believes the Bengals should be so angered by all the negativity in the media, that they should be coming out ready to prove everyone wrong.
"I’m really concerned, because for me, preseason game or no, if you’re the number one group you gotta be ready to play and they clearly weren't ready to play," Wilcots said. "And if you go back to that last game in the playoffs against Indy, they weren't ready to play. Now, I'm watching this game and I see the same lethargic attitude and it concerns me and I'm not saying that’s what we're going to get in the regular season. I’m saying after seeing that, I'm concerned, and if it’s not addressed, then it becomes a reality."
Before Monday night's game even ended, CBS Sports had already published an article titled, "Andy Dalton throws 2 INTs in 113 seconds, including a pick-six." While true, that's obviously not the type of headline you want to read as a Bengals fan and even more so, it's not the headline you want to read if you're Andy Dalton.
"I'm a big representative to CBS but it's where we're at in today's media. We overreact to preseason games. We overreact to anything," Wilcots said when I asked him about the headline. He points back to the Patriots' Week 4 game in 2014. You remember; the game before they were "onto Cincinnati". The Patriots lost to the Chiefs 41-14 and the media was ready to ditch Tom Brady and make it Jimmy Garoppolo time. Patriots fans were concerned because their team started the season 2-2. The next week, the Patriots destroyed the Bengals with a 43-17 win and months later, they won the Super Bowl.
Overreactions aside, Wilcots still believes Dalton, Green and even Andrew Whitworth should be concerned after last night's game.
"Winning is a habit, I don't care if it's the preseason, I don't care if it's checkers," Wilcots said. "That's just what I believe. It’s just being a competitor and setting the standard for how to perform anywhere, anytime and that’s how winning becomes a habit. And so does losing, unfortunately. They should be concerned, they really should be. And the only way to stop it, is to be concerned."