The reaction to the Cincinnati Bengals’ gut-wrenching loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers has been all over the place. Fans calling for the heads of Zac Taylor, Frank Pollack and even Joe Burrow are out there (seriously). A tough loss in a heated division rivalry certainly stings, but the knee-jerk reactions we’ve seen are a tad extreme.
The Bengals are going to be fine.
There is one reason to think that, and it is fairly simple. It is very likely that we don’t see a performance from Burrow that bad again. Lost in the chatter after the game was how much better Burrow played in the second half and overtime.
Sure, a Pick Six on the first throw of the season is a bad way to start. Three other interceptions and a lost fumble make for what could be the worst game of Burrow’s career. A game that bad still ended with 338 passing yards and three “could have been” game winning touchdown passes.
As bad as Burrow was (and he was), he threw 3 game "winners"— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) September 12, 2022
1) Ball to Chase ruled out at the 1.
2) Back of EZ to Mike Thomas (dropped)
3) Game-tying TD to Chase
None of them actually won the game...
Burrow doesn’t get frazzled. He can throw three straight interceptions and be the same player he was at the opening snap. Not only can we not expect a repeat of that performance, we can expect him to put the team into a position to win even if it does happen again.
Tee Higgins leaving the game with a concussion in the second quarter certainly had an impact. Taking away not only a vertical threat as talented as him, but as sure-handed as him certainly changed the outlook.
A would-be touchdown pass from Burrow to Mike Thomas was dropped and it is more than reasonable to think Higgins hangs on. Injuries are part of the game, but a healthy Higgins very well could have led to a different result.
The Bengal defense was also extremely impressive. Spotting Pittsburgh six points on the first offensive snap put them behind the eight-ball from the start. Turnovers also forced them into sudden-change scenarios and playing with a short field. The defense responded by allowing just 269 yards of total offense, on 61 plays. The run defense was especially stout, only allowing 75 total rushing yards.
Losing the turnover battle 5-0 usually signifies a rout in today’s NFL, but Lou Anarumo and co. held tough and gave the offense a chance to win the game in the final seconds. Going forward, holding a team to 23 points will have the Bengals on the good side of the scoreboard more often than not.
Without discussing the injury to long snapper Clark Harris and field goal kicking issues that came with it, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Bengals could have won this game, despite almost everything not going their way.
There are no moral victories in the NFL, nor are there excuses. All of the things I’ve mentioned can be taken as excuses for a loss, depending on who reads them. Playoff seeding cares nothing about injuries, questionable calls or how well your quarterback bounces back from turnovers. The NFL is a win or loss league, so this wasn’t good for the Bengals in any regard, but it is also no time for a panic button.
A team whose starters played no snaps together in the preseason is bound to show rust in their first action together. While things we saw in Week 1 were far from great, they are more areas to keep an eye on as the first few weeks of the season play out than they are areas to assume will be a problem all year.
To be fair, they could all be issues that linger all season, but assuming they are after one week, against one of the best defensive fronts in football is not only an overreaction, but taking the fun out of the season before it even begins.
Take a breath, settle in and get ready for the season. After all, it has barely only begun.