In their last 10 close games (games where the final point differential is eight or less), the Bengals are 2-8. Three of those defeats have come with Zac Taylor as head coach, the latest being Sunday’s 26-23 loss to the Cardinals.
Bad luck usually doesn’t transfer over from season to season the way we’re witnessing it happen in Cincinnati. Sometimes ineptitude trumps positive regression, and Taylor believes the specific ineptitude plaguing the Bengals is the lack of offensive production in the first half.
“I am up here every week talking about how we need to start faster, and that is the truth.” Taylor said at his press conference after the game. “Once we get that done, we will be heading into the right direction.”
In their three close losses, two of them can be attributed to an abysmal offensive performance in the first 30 minutes. In Week 3, it was their 11% play success rate and 3.4 yards per play from the first half against the Bills. Two weeks later, their first half success rate jumped significantly to 52%, but their yards per play was still a mere 4.4.
Six first downs compared to the Cardinals’ 17 ultimately made the difference in the first half discrepancies. After the first drive of the game when Joe Mixon put the offense on his back, they gained 18 yards on nine first and second down plays, with a total success rate of just 33%. The lack of offensive movement is attributed to a plethora of plays being left on the field, as Taylor pointed out.
“We’re in position to win these games—we are just not getting it done.” Taylor said. “It comes down to the end of the game, but there are plays early in the game that we gotta make.”
And that’s the wild part. 53 minutes went by and the Bengals were down by two touchdowns. Another five minutes passed and the game was all of the sudden tied. A pair of touchdown drives with a defensive three-and-out sandwiched in-between the two made it feel like Week 3 again, only this time they had (what was left of) the crowd behind them and the deficit was completely erased.
But alas, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals moved the ball into field goal range and nullified the comeback altogether. An impressive late-game effort by the offense was rendered meaningless because they only put up nine points from the previous seven drives.
It’s frustrating when the same problems keep them from winning time and time again, and the sentiment has to be palpable in the locker room. In Taylor’s mind, though, a locker room meltdown isn’t on the horizon.
Zac Taylor: "I believe in what we're doing and who we're doing it with. It's hard when you're 0-5. But it's not hard when you feel like everyone is going in the same direction when you walk in the building."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 6, 2019
These statements will eventually lose their luster when the wins don’t follow them, and Taylor had a message towards an anxious fan base.
“I get it. This is every fan base I have been around.” Taylor said. “They want to see wins. They want to see production. They are frustrated. Check our locker room—we (also) are frustrated. We have worked so hard for this stuff, and it just hasn’t come yet. The day that it comes, and flips, it’s going to be good times around here, so just hang with us.”
Despite Taylor’s best efforts, that day may not come soon enough for some fans.