Sunday’s breaking point came with 3:33 remaining. Cincinnati, down by a touchdown — which, was a minor miracle — was staring down the barrel of a second-and-20 scenario on Carolina’s seven yard line. Andy Dalton took a 10-yard loss on the previous play due to an odd play design — blockers shifted right while tight end Tyler Kroft sprinted down down the line of scrimmage to take on Efe Obada. Whatever.
Cincinnati needed a big play.
From his own endzone, Dalton arched the football nearly 50 yards downfield. Wide receiver John Ross was running a post, or maybe he was supposed to go vertical, I’m not sure. Either way, Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson intercepted the floater around midfield.
Graham Gano’s 40-yarder two minutes later sealed Carolina’s 31-21 win.
One could argue that Dalton simply overthrew the ball (many Dalton detractors have mercifully attacked this point). However, it’s clear that Ross wasn’t 1) expecting the ball 2) looking at the quarterback anyway 3) played through the play.
Even if Dalton overthrows his receiver, who’s to say Ross doesn’t adjust — or at least become a defender to prevent the interception? Cincinnati was only down a touchdown at this point.
Andy Dalton took responsibility, as usual. “I threw it, tried to give him (John Ross) a chance, I don’t know exactly what happened but I feel like for me I have to smart with the ball. You never want to turn the ball over and we had way too many turnovers today.”
The press tried to get Dalton to break, asking if Ross should have fought harder for the ball (um, yes, Cincinnati press... he should have).
“I think everybody is going to look at the tape and see what we all could do different. That’s the thing with the tape we have to go look at it, see what we could do better and see the plays that we left out there and fix them,” Dalton said.
Respect, Andy. There were some that thought “Ross should have put more of a fight on those 50-50 ball,” presumably including Jackson’s first interception with 2:01 remaining in the first.
Players figure he’ll take his bumps and learn his lessons.
“I believe in him. I believe in his game,” Tyler Boyd said. “I think he can overcome this … Every guy here. That’s our guy. He’s got to spend the rest of the year with us. We’re going to see him every day. I trust him. He’s just got to break the shell. That’s all it is. He’s got to stop worrying about all the other stuff and just play football. It’s going to come. That’s what I told him, ‘It’s going to come, bro. Just relax. It’s going to come.’”
“Andy’s giving us a chance, so we have to go try to protect the throw the best way we can,” Green said. “You’ve just got to learn. If Andy’s going to throw the ball to you, he has the confidence in you to go make the play. It’s either going to be incomplete or it’s going to be a catch. You just have to go fight for those balls. 50-50 balls, he’s giving you a shot. We’ll work on that and go from there.”
Ross is still figuring this thing out. We get that. We sympathize. It’s not an easy transition. However, the point for him to “get it” is soon; Cincinnati isn’t stacked with experience at skill positions and now they’re dealing with injuries. Three games into the season and he’s posted five receptions, 27 yards receiving yards and a touchdown against the Colts in the season opener.
Not good enough.
Tyler Boyd’s increasing stock continues to rise. On the other side of the spectrum, third-year man Tyler Boyd is making strides as an effective contributor in the NFL; according to people that know more than me, receivers need around three years to transition into the NFL. For every A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Randy Moss, and Odell Beckham, there are hundreds of blue-collar workers hammering at lessons, obsessively absorbing information as they transition into the NFL (aka, John Ross).
Boyd, with a team-high 249 yards on 15 receptions, is making an immense leap this year.
With 8:36 remaining in the game, the Bengals, down by a touchdown, have second down from their own 26-yard line. Andy Dalton takes the shotgun snap, scans the field, and courageously hangs in the pocket. Once the pressure mounts, he scrambles left. In the meantime, Boyd ran a deep crossing pattern. As he neared the sideline, Boyd redirected upfield. The 49-yard completion put the Bengals on Carolina’s 25-yard line.
The presence of mind to help Dalton is the epitome of Boyd’s growth.
“He did a great job with reacting once I was out of the pocket,” Dalton said after the game. “I think for him at that point it just ends up backyard football, go get open. He did a great job twice getting open on two big plays.”
Unfortunately, Cincinnati’s longest play didn’t lead to any points when Randy Bullock’s 53-yard attempt sailed wide left.
This wasn’t the first time Dalton and Boyd hooked up on a make-shift scramble. Cincinnati reduced Carolina’s lead earlier after Dalton found Boyd deep in the endzone with 3:03 remaining in the third.
“He understands the game really well,” Dalton said of Boyd. “He understands what we are trying to do, it is natural for him, and it showed with the way he played today.”
At what point did you think Cincinnati lost?
- Was it the deflected pass that Efe Obada intercepted around Cincinnati’s 26-yard line, allowing Cam Newton to extend Carolina’s lead with 5:35 remaining in the third? Bad luck.
- Was it the head-scratching decision to send Bullock out for a 53-yard attempt with 7:19 remaining in the fourth quarterback, down by one touchdown? Sure, Bullock should make that kick, but you also know he doesn’t have a suitable leg for 50-yarders. Send him out anyway? Bad call.
- Was it Ross slowing down on a deep second down pass around midfield late in the game? His lack of effort allowed Jackson to intercept Dalton with 3:33 remaining in the game while only down by a touchdown. Bad effort. Horrible awareness.
However, Cincinnati’s scatterbrained defense horrifically allowed Christian McCaffrey to go Bo Jackson on them in a Tecmo Bowl remake. Newton scored four times, twice on the ground. Clearly, exposing Cincinnati’s vulnerable rushing defense was high in Carolina’s gamelan, allowing 230 yards, with McCaffrey taking responsibility for 184 of them.
Not to mention, there was no pass rush and Cincinnati’s secondary was schooled by Newton’s rag-tag group of barely known receivers. Dre Kirkpatrick, the poster child of toast, faced nine passes and allowed five completions for a team-high 58 yards. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely on him; most of Cincinnati’s secondary sucked, according to Pro Football Focus — none scored a coverage grade better than 52.0.
If you want to freak out about anything regarding the Bengals, this defense’s soft coverage is a concern.
They are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on offense. Their first touchdown drive went 73 yards on 11 plays with seven first downs. On their ensuing possession, Dalton powered a fastball towards Ross that was intercepted. Their second touchdown drive went 12 plays, 75 yards. Then their offense went punt, punt, interception, which led to another Newton touchdown and a Panthers 28-14 lead. Cincinnati recovered with a Boyd touchdown, but then three-and-out, missed field goal and a pair of interceptions to cap off the outing.
Consistency would be nice.
Cincinnati entered the season with limited expectations. Their 2-0 start surprised a lot of us. That doesn’t mean expectations can’t expand as they improve. If the Bengals are 2-0, then we expect them to go 3-0, even if games played at Bank of America stadium are historically challenging for visitors. A win is equally as important in Week 3 as any other week. Carolina is a common opponent for the AFC North, which could factor into postseason tiebreakers in the division.
However, the Bengals’ games have been a case study in chaos. Cincinnati faced a 13-point deficit against Indianapolis before scoring 24 unanswered points for an impressive comeback win. A quick 21-point lead against Baltimore was reduced to five points before the Bengals reset with 13 fourth quarter points. Cincinnati went pound-for-pound against Carolina early, but endurance slipped towards the end.
Next up, the Falcons.