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The best, worst and most unfortunate aspects of the Bengals’ loss to the Panthers

It was a topsy-turvy day for the Bengals, as they suffered their first loss of the 2018 season.

Cincinnati Bengals v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After a nice start to the season, the Cincinnati Bengals hit a buzzsaw down in North Carolina. Cam Newton and his cronies took it to the Bengals, as Marvin Lewis’ team left Charlotte not only bruised up, but also with their first loss of the season in their pocket.

There was a lot to dislike about the Bengals’ performance against the Panthers, but there were some solid positives to grasp on to for Bengals fans.

The best:

This offense can score often: Despite four turnovers, A.J. Green exiting the game early, not having Joe Mixon, a missed field goal, as well as the defense failing to both net a turnover and stop the run, the Bengals were alive until very late in the game. This has to at least be a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel after the first loss of the year.

Dalton made some questionable throws, but his two touchdown throws were beauties. Aside from that, the team still exuded that “never quit” attitude we saw from them in the first two weeks.

A couple of critical areas that didn’t kill them: The Panthers converted 46 percent of their third down opportunities, which was higher than their season average and rushed for 230 yards, but the defense had a couple of other areas that were positive.

Penalties, for one, weren’t one of the issues for the team, as they only had four for 36 yards. They also out-gained the Panthers in total yards, 396 to 377.

The worst:

Missing by inches and a slew of bad breaks: I thought Geoff Hobson of summed up Week 3 for the Bengals well in a recent column about football being a game of inches. Whether it was a near-make of a 53-yard field goal, a just-miss on a blocked punt, Dre Kirkpatrick dropping yet another interception opportunity or just missing out on a fumble recovery, things didn’t go the Bengals’ way.

There is an old-school question that lingers about opportunities within a football game. Good teams create their own and capitalize, while the less fortunate is a reflection of a team’s talent. It’s early in the season, they’re still atop the AFC North and they created enough opportunities to shoot out to a 2-0, but we’ll see which trend continues here.

The (lack of) chemistry between Andy Dalton and John Ross: One of the big themes fans are clinging to after the team’s performance on Sunday is the struggles Dalton has shown when looking Ross’ way. There were two interceptions by rookie Donte Jackson, and questions have been raised about Ross’ effort and mental grasp of the pro game.

Opinions also teeter those two throws being more on Dalton’s right shoulder than Ross’ doing. Regardless, there is one thing we can all agree upon: this is Ross’ sixth regular season NFL game and growth should continue to come.

Sacks and pressure given up by the offensive line: After blanking the Ravens in the sack category last week, Cincinnati’s embattled offensive line showed some familiar warts. The unit gave up two sacks and a multitude of pressures, partially contributing to Dalton’s four interceptions.

Per Pro Football Focus, left tackle Cordy Glenn allowed eight total pressures — six more than he allowed in Weeks 1 and 2 combined. Guards Alex Redmond and Clint Boling also allowed two pressures each in the game.

Redmond also had a holding called on him again at a critical point in the game, which pushed the Bengals back to try a 53-yard field goal that Randy Bullock hooked left. Glenn has largely been outstanding this year, but he had a rough day against edge rushers.

The defensive line, minus Carlos Dunlap: Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard and the rest of the crew had generated a bunch of pressures and sacks the first two weeks, which was a major facet to the team’s 2-0 start. Yet, aside from Dunlap, the group was very quiet and rarely hit Cam Newton.

And, when their names were called, it was for the wrong reasons. For instance, Dunlap had a huge strip-sack of Newton early in the fourth quarter and essentially gave Hubbard a fumble recovery right in his lap. Somehow, the ball squirted out and the team missed out on a huge opportunity.

The downright ugly:

Injuries, injuries and more injuries: We’re not here to make excuses, but the Bengals had a massive uphill battle to climb with so many people out of the lineup. Four critical starters were already missing the game before kickoff in Joe Mixon, Billy Price, Michael Johnson and Preston Brown, but it just got worse as Sunday progressed.

A.J. Green left a little over halfway through the game, while Tyler Kroft, Andrew Billings, Carl Lawson and Giovani Bernard all left and returned at certain points in the contest. Ryan Glasgow is now done for the season after tearing his ACL on Sunday.

The turnover ratio disparity: Going into Sunday, the Bengals were plus-three in the takeaway/giveaway ratio. Thanks to Dalton’s four interceptions and Cincinnati’s defense failing to net one, it not only swayed this particular game greatly in the Panthers’ favor, but also put them behind the eight-ball in the yearly statistics in this facet.

The linebackers: Christian McCaffrey ran all over the Bengals’ defense—for 184 yards, to be exact. Additionally, the Bengals didn’t have a ton of answers for when Newton rushed the football, either.

The group of Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson and Vincent Rey are largely guys who tackle ball-carriers a few yards past the line of scrimmage. Getting Brown and Vontaze Burfict back is critical and should help the defense immensely. Thankfully, their respective returns are around the corner.

The broken record on recurring matchup issues: Stop us if you’e heard this before: the Bengals’ defense has trouble corralling multi-dimensional quarterbacks and covering able running backs in the passing game. McCaffrey had a career-high in rushing yards, while Newton bullied his way into the end zone twice.

Aside from the Bengals suffering a huge amount of injuries to critical players, they still have major issues matching up with certain players and schemes. Every team experiences these matchup problems throughout a given season, but Cincinnati put theirs on tape once again this Sunday.