It’s hard to know how to feel after this one. Optimism and frustration are melding together, as Cincinnati lost a heartbreaker at home to and NFC powerhouse.
Joe Burrow’s rebounds:
The franchise quarterback had a couple of misfires and there were many other obstacles to overcome from teammates and coaches, but No. 9 still had the team in position to win the game multiple times. After two second quarter punts, Green Bay took a somewhat-commanding 16-7 lead before halftime.
Burrow’s solution? Connecting on a 70-yard bomb to Ja’Marr Chase to completely turn the complexion of the game.
After throwing an interception to open the third quarter, Burrow got the offense into scoring situations twice in the fourth quarter, with the last being an opportunity to win the game. Burrow also threw an interception in overtime, but overcame it to get the Bengals back into game-winning territory again.
While it wasn’t Burrow’s best game, he led comeback attempts via touchdown passes, two-point conversion throws and methodical drives to overcome mistakes—be it his own or from others. That’s a trend we’ve seen in his young career and a great one to have for the Bengals, as they won’t be “out” of many games under No. 9’s watch.
The No. 5 overall pick is a budding superstar. Every week he seems to make a big play, or, like, three as it pertains to this past week. Whether it was the 70-yard bomb, a toe-gab catch in overtime, a bobbling catch in traffic, or other routine ones, Chase stole the show once again on Sunday.
And he’s now in elite company with statistical performances. He joined Marvin Harrison (2003) with with big plays in his first five games and is also on par with Randy Moss’s great rookie campaign, as well.
Ja'Marr Chase through first 5 games:— PFF (@PFF) October 12, 2021
453 Rec. Yards
Randy Moss through first 5 games:
463 Rec. Yards
Ja’Marr Chase is already in good company pic.twitter.com/KxYXyoAV95
Not many love the idea of taking these from a loss, but there were positives to take away from the loss. Cincinnati hung tough and had opportunities to beat one of the best teams and quarterbacks in the AFC. Not bad for a team pegged for yet another rebuilding year by a lot of outlets.
While a win would have been another huge foundational building block for Zac Taylor, this performance can also breed some confidence. Instead of feeling like they have a long way to go, everyone in that locker room is feeling like they can hang with and beat anyone in the NFL.
Some Burrow decisions:
For the great comeback wizardry Burrow continues to show, there were also signs of this being his “rookie season”, of sorts. The franchise quarterback has less than a full NFL season of accrued starts, so some growing pains, even with the great No. 9, are still to be expected.
The overtime interception seemed to be more of the miscommunication ilk, but the one right after halftime provided a valuable learning experience. After completing the big touchdown to Chase to get the Bengals back in the game, it was a golden opportunity for the Bengals to control the contest via back-to-back scores sandwiched around the midway break.
Instead, Burrow got overzealous and threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. This isn’t a call for Burrow to “rein it in”, by any means, but there are times where he’ll need to “live to play another down”, instead of cleaning up his own mess later in a game.
The Drew Sample/Auden Tate disparity:
In truth, I liked the idea of getting Sample involved as a potential option to cause damage with attention drawn elsewhere. However, Sample didn’t fully step up when his number was called.
He was targeted four times against Green Bay, but only made two catches for a total of nine yards. He dropped one that would have bailed out Burrow, and on another, he tripped over “the turf monster” to limit the play to six yards.
Meanwhile, by comparison as our buddy Willie Lutz points out, Tate has been targeted three times the entire season.
Hard to believe Drew Sample had more targets against the #Packers (4) than Auden Tate has had all season (3).— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 13, 2021
Obviously, the two men play different positions, but with the Bengals ranking 23rd in the NFL on third down conversion percentage (37.3%), one would think Tate would be thought of in the offensive game plan a little bit more. Tate can move the chains, has an excellent catch radius and makes contested catches.
Just a thought after a week with more questions on coaching decisions.
Questions on Zac Taylor’s in-game approach:
Speaking of, this has been a talking point since the loss. The Tate/Sample discussion aside, decisions on kicking a 57-yarder, not going for it on fourth downs and other issues are elements eliciting inquiries.
In one instance early in the first quarter, the Bengals were faced with a 4th-and-9 from the Green Bay 41-yard line. A hard conversion, to be sure, so the Bengals punted. Unfortunately, the punt went into the end zone for a net of 20 yards. Yikes.
With Burrow and the offense clicking late in the game, not going for it to get Evan McPherson into easier territory (and, for the superstitious, just a bad game for kickers, in general) by going for it on 4th-and-inches. We all know what happened afterward.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but hopefully Taylor, like Burrow, takes away some lessons learned as well—particularly when witnessing what happened with the Colts on Monday night.
More questions than answers on team viability:
While the aforementioned moral victories are nice and may resonate more this week than many others, people are wondering just how good this Bengals team is right now. They’ve shown great fortitude and effort, particularly when the chips appear to be down, but this was a statement game they let slip through their fingers.
And, even while we’re all relatively-pleased with the 3-2 start, the reality remains the three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 4-11. They place themselves firmly back into the top of the AFC playoff picture again with a win this week over the Lions...who are 0-5.
The point of the matter is that the Bengals need to start winning these games—not just to be taken seriously by national pundits, but also to achieve their championship aspirations. Burrow and Taylor beating the likes of Rodgers and LaFleur, Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh is the road to a Lombardi Trophy.
Allowance of a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 200-yard passer:
Lou Anarumo’s unit has been a big part of the team’s early-season successes, but there were a lot of issues on that side of the ball this week. We knew the Packers were going to put up stats and points, but their hitting of the statistical trifecta stung.
There were communication issues in the secondary and the linebackers didn’t make impact plays we’ve seen in the first month. Trey Hendrickson got after the quarterback, but others had trouble doing so.
There were positives to take away for sure, and it wasn’t all on the defense, but they needed to limit things and not rely on a historically-bad day of kicking as a big crutch to keep the game within reach. Again, troubles were expected this week, but a couple more plays here and there, and we’re likely talking about a different outcome.
Squandering multiple victory opportunities and missteps in clutch situations:
The two missed kicks by McPherson are obvious here, but there were other gaffes that really cost the team. We mentioned some issues with Sample, Burrow’s interceptions and others, but there are others.
Late in the third quarter, Cincinnati opted to go for it on 4th-and-2. Burrow converted on a draw. It was called back by a holding penalty and forced another punt.
There are so many moments in which to point (and we have), but teams just can’t trip over their own feet like this against one of the league’s elite teams. Minimize the mistakes and the Bengals could become one of those elite teams themselves.
Does anyone want to make a kick?!:
Just a painful, painful afternoon for special teamers. McPherson and Mason Crosby combined to miss 16 collective points, as their respective teams and fans agonized over almost five full quarters of football.
For the Bengals’ side of things, it was a sobering set of moments for their big-legged rookie kicker, as he’s already iced two wins this year. However, McPherson has missed three field goal attempts in the past two games after not missing at all in the preseason and first three contests.
Let’s hope it’s a blip on the radar and not a blossoming trend.