Between the lack of any running game, the passing game being badly out of sync, the defense allowing several big passing plays, and Marvin Lewis’ lack of challenging a questionable call that could have been a touchdown, this was simply a game to forget for Cincinnati.
Lost in all of this was the frequent bad decision-making by rookie Alex Erickson on punt returns. Time after time in this game, we saw Erickson pull a Brandon Tate and field the punt down near his own goal line, putting the offense in terrible field position.
The worst was near the end of the first half when Erickson fielded a punt at his own five-yard line with a fair catch, which was compounded by a personal foul penalty on Clayton Fejedelem that put the ball at the three-yard line.
The next punt return attempt saw Erickson fair catch the ball at his own eight-yard line. While not quite as bad, it may have traveled into the end zone had he let it go.
Later, Erickson fielded a punt at his own eight-yard line without calling a fair catch. Even though he had two defenders right on him. They were so surprised he didn’t call for a fair catch they barely had to hit him to take him down.
By that time, the Bengals had enough, as they put Adam Jones on the next punt, which he returned 12 yards. These mistakes helped kill drives before they started. With the offense struggling, they helped lead to one of the worst performances we’ve seen from an Andy Dalton-led offense. Of the Bengals' 15 offensive drives, six went three-and-out and two more had just one first down on the drive. This is how the day went for the Bengals’ offense on Sunday: Punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, field goal, punt, touchdown, fumble (Kneegate), fumble (the Giovani Bernard lateral attempt that didn’t work).
During his Monday meeting with the media, one of the first things Lewis mentioned was the lack of an impact the special teams unit provided.
“Starting in special teams, we have to make some things happen,” Lewis said. “We didn’t affect the game positively in special teams, and in a close football game like that, we have to take that opportunity.”
The good news for Erickson is Lewis didn’t single him out on Monday or in the postgame press conference. In fact, the Bengals didn’t really get too much into special teams after the game...for obvious reasons.
KneeGate kept Erickson out of the negative spotlight this week. He may not be so lucky if these rookie mistakes continue next week.