It’s hard to pinpoint just what the takeaways should be from the Bengals’ recent loss to the Bills. Cincinnati came oh-so-close to grabbing Zac Taylor’s first regular-season win, but familiar mistakes keep holding this team back.
There were positives in yet another loss, but the maddening errors continued as Cincinnati fell to 0-3. Here are the best and worst from the Bengals’ 21-17 loss to the Bills.
Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate: Cincinnati’s offense had to deal with another A.J. Green-less week, but other weapons continue to step up in his absence. Boyd continued to show why the Bengals invested in him for the long-term, as he reeled in six catches for 67 yards.
Tate also had a nice day, as he led the team with 88 yards on six catches of his own. He was a primary target on the final drive, grabbing two passes for 22 yards.
A bounce-back week for Randy Bullock: The veteran kicker has been a goat because of a critical miss in each of the team’s first two games. He fared well this week in both a loud and windy environment, giving the team five of their 17 points (two extra points and a field goal).
Joe Mixon: The third-year running back talked about he needed to play better in the week leading up to this Bills game and he backed up his chatter. Mixon churned out 61 tough yards on 15 carries for a 4.1-yard average. He also had two catches—one was a 33-yard scamper on a screen pass and the other was a touchdown reception at the goal line.
Climbing back into the game late: It could be argued that the first two and a half quarters of this game contained some of the most frustrating Bengals film in recent memory. Between the questionable officiating and Josh Allen continuing to channel his inner Houdini on the Bengals’ defense (more on those facets later), the first 35-40 game minutes were borderline miserable to witness.
However, through their own mistakes and the ones by the guys in zebra stripes, Cincinnati fought back into the contest and pulled out a near-win. In a first month where positives have been hard to come by, seeing the team continue to fight is a good sign, in terms of their feelings towards Zac Taylor and Co.
Darius Phillips: The second-year defensive back is getting more opportunities with the new coaching staff and he’s making the most of them. He had what should have been a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, had an iffy holding call not been made on Tate. Phillips also had a big interception in the third quarter to kickstart the Bengals’ rally.
John Ross and Damion Willis: At one point early in the game, Ross’s first two targets resulted in a drop and a lost fumble. He also missed on a big play down the sideline, where one could pit the blame on a missed throw by Andy Dalton and/or the effort level of Ross. After having a great first two weeks, Ross had just two catches for 22 yards on six targets.
Willis also did a disappearing act and was benched later in the game in favor of Tate. The preseason golden boy hasn’t had an impact in the regular season as he tries to fill the immense shoes left by Green.
The secondary: What a regression by this unit. Dre Kirkpatrick was victimized often and when he actually did have a pass break-up, it was on a floated pass where he wasn’t even looking at the ball.
The respective falls from grace by Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams has this defense reeling, though. Both guys let passing plays be completed with ease in front of them, while both were infamously abused by Dawson Knox on one of the pivotal plays of the game on a 49-yard reception.
Andy Dalton: We should preface this by talking about how the veteran quarterback didn’t have heaps of help on Sunday. The offensive line was up-and-down, the running game didn’t get going until the second half and did we mention that A.J. Green was missing?
Even so, Dalton was inaccurate all afternoon. Be it because of the wind and/or his distrust in the line, receivers had to frequently stop in their routes to make a catch. He threw two more interceptions on Sunday, giving him four in the first three games.
The first half play-calling: We understand that Jonah Williams and Cordy Glenn are out of the lineup, but the creativity we witnessed in Week 1 was not re-created in the subsequent two weeks. The Bills defense is tough, but Cincinnati looked completely inept for the first two and a half quarters.
Ross’s miscues hurt, while Andre Smith had another rough outing at left tackle, but Taylor still didn’t dial up anything that could have provided a much-needed spark.
Tackling and inability to finish quarterback sacks: The missed tackles on Sunday were utterly maddening. This time it wasn’t so much on the running backs and receivers, but rather on the quarterback.
On a handful of occasions, Cincinnati’s talented linemen missed on bringing down Allen for what should have been big plays by the defense. We know that Allen is big, athletic and strong, but he looked Roethlisberger-esque in his ability to escape pressure by Cincinnati.
The officiating: Good Lord. The aforementioned holding call on Tate aside, this crew seemingly did everything in its power to keep the Bengals down on Sunday. The Allen fumble play was a disaster from the original ruling to the challenged one, while other no-calls were maddening enough to have Taylor talk about them in a passionate postgame address to the team.
The lack of “the clutch gene”: Part of what marked the Marvin Lewis era was the team’s inability to win big games in big situations. With his exit, the hope is that this would change because of a renewed energy brought in by Taylor.
This team is five points away from being 2-1 and in good shape within the division. However, mental mistakes, spotty play-calling and players not stepping up in key moments has this team at 0-3.
This week, the defense actually kept the Bengals in the game for roughly 55 game minutes, only to let up a critical go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left in the game. Cincinnati’s offense topped them by marching down to the Bills’ 28-yard line for a potential game-winning touchdown, only to have it end on a poorly-thrown Dalton interception. Someone needs to step up in these moments, otherwise this team will be stuck in its losing ways.