Monday, September 9, 2013
Bengals have positives even in defeat
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- The days immediately following losses -- particularly early-season ones --- always require beat reporters to attempt the impossible: talking fans off the ledge and bringing them back to reality.
Here goes nothing.
Let's all take three deep breaths, everyone.
Andy Dalton went 26-for-33 with 282 yards and a touchdown.
One ... two ... three.
All might not be completely well in Who Dey Nation right this very moment, but in time, the Cincinnati Bengals will be fine. The key there, though, is "in time." The very same team many of you had high hopes for in the preseason will be around later on in the year. The offense will be there (will it be balanced is the real question?). The defense will return to statistical form. The special teams will dazzle and amaze.
For whatever the various reasons -- perhaps it was being overly excited for the opener -- the Bengals just didn't appear to be in sync in any phase of the game Sunday against Chicago. A trio of turnovers, several costly penalties, a general lack of composure and a set of unfortunate circumstances that led to two timeouts being burned long before they should have combined to deliver the Bengals a 24-21 loss to the Bears.
Yes, there was a lot of ugly in that game for Cincinnati.
But not everything was bad. Quarterback Andy Dalton looked far from it, in fact, as he sat back and and passed for 282 yards, 162 of which went to his Pro Bowl receiver, A.J. Green. In addition to the yards he racked up, Green caught two touchdown passes and had two more receptions that will surely make someone's end-of-season highlight reel.
Defensively, the Bengals had a timely interception by linebacker Vontaze Burfict and batted away three Jay Cutler passes at the line of scrimmage. They pressured him, flushing him out of the pocket a time or two. The problem was that when he did get forced out, he somehow finagled a gain with his legs or arm.
On special teams, Cincinnati's kicker and punter adequately played keep-away from arguably the most dangerous kick and punt return man in the NFL: Devin Hester. The Bengals also got their own strong return from punt return specialist Adam Jones, even though that 50-yard play was called back for a borderline illegal block.
See? There was some beauty to behold.
But even still, as good as the Bengals may have looked at select times, there was still one glaring problem with Sunday's game.
"Yeah, a lot of positives," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "And one major negative: the 'L.'"
Before the season, the Bengals were being picked as a team that could compete for a Super Bowl. If that was to happen, they were supposed to roll in the opener over a Bears team that went through an offensive and defensive overhaul in the offseason. Even though the victory didn't occur, coach Marvin Lewis remains optimistic that his team can be special.
I'm not yet willing to say what I think would make this a special year for Cincinnati simply because I just haven't quite figured out at this point what would comprise a special year. Obviously, a season that ends past the first round of the playoffs would be a big step toward having that type of year.
"After watching the tape last night and then watching it again a couple times today, I felt good about a lot of things," Lewis said. "I'm excited about our guys. That's the good thing. I'm excited about this group and what we can accomplish. But we have to do it. We are back to square one, so that's good.
"We like to fight uphill."
All four AFC North teams lost on opening weekend.
As you'll likely be reminded several times the next few weeks, the Bengals lost Week 1 last year before making the playoffs. They were flat out out blasted in that game, losing to Baltimore by 31 points.
If such a turnaround is to come this season, Cincinnati will need to cut down on Week 1's few, yet major mental miscues and return to the type of football it played at the end of last regular season.
"Nobody graded 100 percent or anything," Lewis said. "[But] there were a lot of bright spots. They all had positive plays and negative plays. We lost as a football team. We lost the football game. We had many opportunities to put the game away and we didn't get it done. So it's a lesson well-learned."
Perhaps you'll read this first-week lesson the same way I do. Now doesn't seem like the time for anyone around Paul Brown Stadium to panic. If I'm wrong, though, and the season eventually falls apart, maybe I'll learn my own lesson: the cliff-jumping fan can, sometimes, be right.