The Bengals lost quarterback Joe Burrow before halftime, the refs made quite a few questionable calls, and the effort can be questioned from both sides of the ball even when Burrow was still out there. Still, a few guys we can highlight as winners, and it would probably be easier to say who was not a loser in this one.
Joe Mixon: Even before Burrow’s injury, Mixon was having himself a game. It seemed like the team finally found some rhythm with getting him some quick runs up the middle and passes to the outside, one of which went for a touchdown to give the Bengals their only lead of the night. Not to mention that he was running angry, breaking several tackles throughout the night.
If the team has to find some wins without their franchise quarterback, they will need the best from Mixon the rest of the way as well.
Trey Hendrickson: The fact he was even out on the field shows just how tough he is, and he really opted to put his body on the line. He even managed to come out and play pretty well. He had a sack on the second drive of the game after getting a tackle for a loss right before that. Once the game got away from them, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make as much of an impact.
Jordan Battle: He should be the starter the rest of the way. He had a couple of rookie mistakes with over-pursuing the play at times, but he was able to actually make tackles. Veteran safety Nick Scott is a good depth piece and presence for two very young starting safeties, but Battle not only gets the edge with his play, but his getting snaps now could mean more for next season.
The offensive line: Pass protection has not been good enough. The amount of money spent on this line does not represent the caliber of players they should be seeing. Orlando Brown Jr.’s sudden issue with anchoring in pass protection is just baffling. Cordell Volson has just not progressed enough to be viewed as an unquestioned and unchallenged starter at left guard. Even Alex Cappa has had his issues with getting walked right back into the quarterback. Center Ted Karras and right tackle Jonah Williams haven’t been perfect, but they have been the most consistently good players there.
It just has to be better, and we are at the point we may need to see some jobs lost. Whether that is players or coaches to show that it just isn’t good enough, and recognizing it isn’t good enough just won’t get it done.
The refs: The amount of defensive pass interference called on the Bengals' secondary that just was not close is unacceptable. Refs in the NFL are always going to make bad mistakes, and you should always expect a few that don’t go your way. I mean, the holding call that took back a Baltimore touchdown was just as bad. Unfortunately, Cincinnati got about three other terrible calls and couldn’t get a defensive pass interference until a Raven laid out Irwin before the ball got there. The terrible calls in a game that is hyped up as such a big game for both sides just ruins what could be good games.
Defense: There are some obvious exclusions here, but for the most part, tackling was a serious issue again. They also couldn’t contain Lamar Jackson most of the night. If he didn’t slip or have as much of an issue with injuries on the night, you have to wonder how often they would have actually stopped the offense.
Sam Hubbard being out has clearly been an issue for the running game as well. In the two weeks he has been out, the team has been pretty bad — or worse than usual, at least — against the run. He can’t come back soon enough. We also saw a few times a missed tackle on a receiver ended up as huge gains that were either touchdowns or led to points.
We saw the rookie safety Battle supplant Scott. They just don’t have enough quality defenders behind other positions to make a difference.
The Bengals coaching staff: The second week in a row, they were out-coached. Even when Burrow was on the field, they took several drives to even find a rhythm. Sure, Tee Higgins was out again, but this offense still has plenty of weapons. They have too many weapons to have to find an identity every week. They struggle to get into any sort of rhythm every week. You just can’t do that week-to-week and expect to do anything noteworthy for drives on end.
Then the defense gave up over 100 yards after the catch and over 100 rushing yards in the second half. It isn’t easy to get a team together after losing your franchise quarterback in the game, but if this is a sign of things to come, if Burrow misses any time, you may as well pack it up.
Playoff hopes: The Bengals’ hopes of winning the division are pretty much over, and if Burrow even misses a few games, the team’s Wild Card hopes could be dead by the time he returns. And if Burrow is out for the rest of the year, there’s really no chance this team is making the playoffs.