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Brandon LaFell steps up in Bengals' loss to Cowboys

Next week, the former Patriots wide receiver will return to New England where he spent the last two seasons of his NFL career.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals had a red zone problem through four weeks of the season. Heading into Week 5 in Dallas, Cincinnati repped a league-worst 30.77% red zone efficiency rating. It took until the fourth quarter for the Bengals to even get into the red zone on Sunday against the Cowboys, but when they did, they scored both times. Or more specifically, Andy Dalton threw passes to Brandon LaFell, and LaFell scored twice.

The touchdown catches were LaFell’s first, and second, as a Bengals wide receiver, and a good sign that the team’s No. 2 wide pass catcher is stepping up and becoming a more important player on the offense.

“Getting him there is big, and it’s the bigger part of our offense,” quarterback Andy Dalton said after the team’s loss. “He made good plays today.”

LaFell now has 276 yards and 2 touchdowns through five weeks. Those aren't bad numbers, and the Bengals should continue trusting LaFell and incorporating him into the offense more heavily. That’s especially true when A.J. Green is being double and triple teamed throughout the game, as he was on Sunday in Dallas. LaFell caught eight of 11 passes that came his way for 68 yards on Sunday. He came to the rescue in the fourth quarter, especially when Green left the game with an injury, and helped ensure the Bengals weren’t shut out.

“He’s doing everything we ask him to do and he showed it today,” Dalton said. “When we can spread the ball to a bunch of different guys that’s big and he’s definitely a big part of it.”

Next week, LaFell will face his former team as the Bengals travel to New England, LaFell’s home for two years from 2014-2015. In New England, LaFell became a Super Bowl Champion with the Patriots, and that Super Bowl game, the Patriots’ win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, was actually the last time LaFell had a touchdown catch, prior to Sunday.

“We’ve definitely moved onto New England, especially when you lose like this,” LaFell said after the game in Dallas. “We definitely can’t come out next week and play flat like this with a high powered offense like those guys got. With Tom (Brady) back, we’ve got to come out, score points, and play within the game. We can’t get down 21 points.”

LaFell knows what the Patriots are capable of as well as, if not better than, anyone on the Bengals. And going down 21 points against his former team would likely not be a hole the Bengals could dig themselves out of, just as they weren’t able to dig themselves out of that deficit in Dallas. A better effort will be needed next week from the Cincinnati Bengals, and there’s no questioning that.

"We kicked ourselves in the tail. We got down early. We played hard, but got dominated in all phases of the game – offense, defense, special teams,” LaFell said. “We were out there and before you blinked it was 21-to-zero, it kind of throws away your game plan and you’re playing from behind.”

That’s certainly true. The game plan the Bengals had planned likely needed to be thrown out the window once the defense quickly let the Cowboys take the lead and then watched themselves get buried further and further with each Cowboys offensive drive.

“You can’t let guys just sit back in cover two all day and try to make you throw the ball,” LaFell said. “We just got away from our game plan. From here on out, we’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to go out there, we’ve got to play from ahead and do the things coach teaches us to do all week.”

As for what the Bengals need to do to improve during the next week, LaFell believes it boils down to consistency.

“We just need to be more consistent every snap, every series, every quarter,” he said. “We just need to be more consistent. That’s what separates the good teams from the average teams.”