The Cincinnati Bengals very well may be the kings of heartbreak in season-openers—especially in the Marvin Lewis era. After hope was restored with Lewis’ hiring in 2003, Cincinnati opened up at home against the Denver Broncos and were embarrassed 30-10. In 2004, with Carson Palmer at the helm for the first time, the Bengals lost a nail-biter to the Jets 31-24.
Then we have the ultimate display of Bengaldom in 2009, as the team let up a last-minute improbable touchdown to Brandon Stokley to lose 12-7 in front of a Paul Brown Stadium crowd, once again giving a win to the Broncos. And, in 2012, the Ravens embarrassed Cincinnati on Monday Night Football to the tune of 44-13.
Then, Sunday happened.
After the Bengals have struggled to regain their proverbial balance from the 2015 wild card loss to the Steelers, this offseason brought change and new hope—particularly from the NFL Draft. All of these inclinations were dashed as the Ravens, who didn’t appear to be world-beaters before Sunday, but came in to PBS and shut out Cincinnati on their home turf.
On one hand, one could have optimism after this week’s debacle, given how the rest of those aforementioned seasons played out for the team in those specific scenarios. However, the few fears everyone had for this year’s Bengals team came to fruition in the opener.
Cincinnati’s offensive line was an absolute mess, with all five members having their respective moments of poor play. It not only directly led to Andy Dalton’s poor play, but it also led to him sensing some “phantom pressure”, which caused forced throws and turnovers.
We can’t fully exonerate Dalton from all blame, though. He made a number of ill-advised throws and arguably had his worst game as a pro quarterback against the Ravens. It’s not exactly what you want to see in a seven-year starter who has made three Pro Bowls.
Now, Dalton and his beleaguered offense enters a game that has some major problem areas for the Bengals. Since Dalton has taken the reigns of the team, Cincinnati is just 1-5 against the Texans since 2011—with four of those losses coming in primetime venues.
Speaking of, are you a believer in the Bengals’ “primetime curse”? It’s understandable if you believe Cincinnati’s struggles are either pure coincidence and/or a product of them playing premiere teams on the biggest stages, but the fact remains that a number of embarrassing performances have come in the highest-profile contests. They don’t just lose in these scenarios, they find new and humiliating ways to do so.
They also now face Deshaun Watson as the Texans’ starting quarterback. The former NCAA National Champion supplants Tom Savage, who led Houston to a win over the Bengals this past Christmas Eve. And, in case you haven’t been following this team very long, they tend to struggle against mobile quarterbacks in which they have limited pro tape to watch.
If there’s one offensive line in the NFL that appears to be worse than what The Queen City’s front office employs, it’s the one in Houston. In a shocking turn of events, the Texans offensive front allowed 10 sacks in a 29-7 beatdown by the Jaguars. It just might be what the doctor ordered for the Bengals, as they look to turn around their season in a contract year for Marvin Lewis.
Regardless of what you think of the Texans at this point in time, Houston still presents some major issues for Cincinnati. The primetime venue and new quarterback notwithstanding, NFL darling J.J. Watt and his counterparts of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney will undoubtedly test a Bengals offensive line that needs all the help it can get.
Is there such a thing as a must-win game in Week 2 of the season? If so, both the Texans and Bengals are facing it. Houston has improbably made the playoffs the past two years with major signal-caller issues, while the Bengals had five straight postseason performances from 2011-2015. With the next few games including an away game against the Packers and two more against divisional rivals (Browns and Steelers) in the next five weeks, getting into the win column is critical.
This one may very well come down to the kicking game, which presents all sorts of irony. Randy Bullock, who won the Bengals’ kicking job over fifth-round selection, Jake Elliott this summer, will be going up against one of his six previous employers on Thursday night.
Did we mention he missed a potential game winner against the Texans on Christmas Eve last year? It was that kick which ensured the Bengals would select the dynamic, yet injury-prone John Ross at No. 9 overall, who is questionable this week. Can Bullock make the necessary kicks for the Bengals to win, which was such a huge problem last year?
As of now, this appears to be similar to the opponent and situation the Bengals faced last year when going on Thursday Night Football. In Week 4 against a tricky Miami Dolphins team (who ended up making the playoffs), the Bengals righted the ship from a rough start and dominated the Dolphins 22-7.
However, what resulted was a six-win season. Is the Bengals’ season over if they don’t win Thursday night? Not necessarily, as they have 14 more contests to make hay. However, they’ll have a massive hole to dig out of if they want to make the postseason and prove that they can move through the playoff bracket.
This game will come down to which offense will make the more plays, as so many other NFL contests do. Though my confidence is shaken in the Bengals’ coaching staff and their (in)ability to make adjustments, Cincinnati is much healthier than Houston at this point. Did we mention that the Texans don’t currently have a healthy tight end, which has often been an Achilles heel for the Bengals’ defense, on their roster?
The Bengals are coming off a short week and even though they are hosting back-to-back games, it’s far from a lock that they’ll run away from this one. It will be ugly and close to be sure, I hate to break it to you.
Texans 13, Bengals 16
AC — Talk me off the ledge in Week 3.