The Bengals’ loss on Sunday had much to do with ineffective line play on both offense and defense.
On offense, Andrew Whitworth was the only offensive lineman doing much of anything positive, though even big Whit was called for an offensive holding penalty in the third quarter. In his 11th year in the NFL, Whitworth has seen it all: big wins, big losses, and everything in between.
“We had two possessions and by the third possession, we’re down 21-nothing,” Whitworth said of the team’s loss, a game they were never really in. “I mean, it’s going to be a long day anytime you’re on the road. I’ve never seen it not be that way.”
When the Cowboys won the coin toss and elected to receive first, they knew what they were doing. It took Dallas 3 minutes and 51 seconds to score and put up a 7-0 lead that would last until their next touchdown, three plays into the start of the second quarter. The score was 28-0 heading into the fourth quarter, and it wasn’t until Brandon LaFell stepped in with his first of two touchdowns on the day, about five minutes into the fourth quarter, that the Bengals were able to score.
“Wins in the NFL are hard to get,” Whitworth said. “I think that’s a helluva football team over there. They’ve got some special players. So, we knew this was going to be a tough to come on the road, come here in their place and play well. We obviously didn’t stop them and we obviously didn’t make any plays on offense.”
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The Bengals made some plays on offense, so Whitworth is slightly exaggerating, but they were hard to come by and could have been missed when you consider how many bad plays there were on Sunday afternoon. Dalton was 29/41 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. A.J. Green was in double and triple coverage frequently, but that didn't even help other receivers get open for the large majority of the game.
“We’ve got to execute better in a lot of different ways and then come up with some of those miraculous plays you see every year that just make a difference in a game,” Whitworth said. “We just don’t quite have it yet. But the bottom line is in this game, at this level of play, the only way you get it is to put your head down and just keep banging. Hopefully, our resolve on this team will be to come back next week and play the best football game we can play since this was our worst this season.”
The Bengals very well might need their best football game of the year, by far, to beat the Patriots, in New England, for Tom Brady’s first game at home of the 2016 season. Brady showed on Sunday against the Browns that he’s not messing around in his return back after a four-game suspension for the events surrounding Deflategate.
“You get down 21-nothing early in an NFL game on the road, it’s going to be a long day,” Whitworth said. “Something special’s got to have to happen, a turnover or special teams play can get you back in the game because the defense is going to play off and make you go the long way every time.”
But, the Bengals had no big plays on special teams. Nugent missed a 50-yard field goal, Kevin Huber averaged 39.2 yards on his five punts, 1 of which was a touchback and 2 of which landed inside the 20-yard line. On punt returns, Alex Erickson had 1 fair catch and Adam Jones had a touchback. On kick returns, Rex Burkhead had one for 23 yards and Erickson had two that averaged out to 23 yards each. So, while a spark on special teams certainly would have been nice, it didn’t happen.
But, not all hope is lost, nor should it be after five games. The NFL season is long and it doesn’t matter how you start. It’s how you finish that matters most. Whitworth knows that.
“There’s so much season left,” Whitworth said. “There’s so many runs you make in this game. If we end the same way we started last year, this doesn’t really matter that much. There’s so many points in the season. Until you get late in the year, these games are what they are.
You lost and you’ve got to put your head back down, go to New England and play your best football. That should be the only thing we’re worried about. Anything else is not really important at this time.”