Through five weeks, the Bengals do not look like a playoff team. On Sunday, they were dismantled by the Dallas Cowboys, 28-14. But maybe another embarrassing loss is just what this team needed to rekindle their bid for a sixth straight trip to the postseason.
It was ugly, then it got uglier, then a pair of garbage time touchdowns made the score a tad more palatable. What else is there to say? The Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) were dominated in every facet of their 28-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys (4-1).
While Dallas played at a stadium where they had lost eight of their last nine games, Cincinnati came in jet-lagged from their 10-day hiatus. One has to be concerned with preparation from Marvin Lewis and the coaching staff. In Lewis’s tenure, Cincinnati is now 3-5 following a Thursday night game.
What went wrong
Basically everything. The lone time Cincinnati brought any pressure on rookie Dak Prescott it was 28 points too late. Although it did result in a Carlos Dunlap strip-sack, which led to the first of two Bengals’ fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
Prescott only needed to attempt 24 passes, completing 75 percent of them for 227 yards and a touchdown. The fourth-round rookie added a rushing score, too.
On the ground, the trenches battle was won by Dallas without question. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot ran through holes big enough for trucks. Elliot went for 134 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. He was untouched on his 60-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter that put Dallas up, 28-0. Elliot became the first 100-yard rusher allowed by Cincinnati on the road since Stevan Ridley on Oct. 5, 2014.
On offense, it was perhaps the poorest showing by the offensive line we’ve seen in a long time. Dubiously comparable to week one when the front five allowed seven sacks.
Dallas racked up four sacks and hit Andy Dalton an additional nine times. Dalton was under constant duress, limiting his chances to stretch the field. A.J. Green was limited to four catches for 50 yards on eight targets.
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There wasn’t much going on for either team on special teams. Dallas marched down the field and scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives while Cincinnati was scoreless until the fourth quarter.
After a career-high five field goals in the win over Miami, Mike Nugent misfired on his only attempt; a 50-yard field goal on the Bengals’ opening drive of the second half. One play later, Elliot’s 60-yard run all but sealed a 2-3 start for Cincinnati.
What went right
As mentioned, the Bengals won the takeaway battle, 1-0. Prescott’s fumble was the only turnover of the game.
Quietly, Cincinnati did manage 5.1 yards per carry. Giovani Bernard ran for 50 on nine carries. But as the score would indicate, there wasn’t much time for Ken Zampese to dial up the run game. Jeremy Hill left the game with a chest injury after four carries for 12 yards and did not return.
The Bengals were worst in the NFL in red zone efficiency, but at least that number increased on Sunday. Dalton led touchdown drives of 59 and 77 yards, respectively, each capped off by Brandon LaFell touchdowns. The Red Rifle even had a career-high 14 straight completions.
LaFell led the Cincinnati receiving corps with eight catches for 68 yards.
On to New England
This may have been exactly what the Bengals needed. Five weeks into the season, Cincinnati has lost to two quarterbacks — Trevor Siemian and Prescott — that were unheard of in the NFL world two months ago. It’s a real gut-check moment for a team that has gone to the postseason five consecutive years.
When’s the last time Cincinnati had a reality check like this? Glad you asked. In 2014, the Bengals lost by 26 to New England, were shut out by the Colts, and fell 24-3 to the Browns, all in a six-week span. The response? They won five of their final seven games to finish the year 10-5-1 and make the playoffs as a wild card.
Unfortunately, the task doesn’t get easier. The Bengals head to Foxborough next Sunday to take on the 4-1 Patriots. Tom Brady returned from his four-game suspension Sunday and promptly threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Browns. The Bengals haven’t won in New England since 1986, and the Patriots are 28-3 at Gillette Stadium since 2013.