Where do the Bengals go after blowout loss to Browns?

Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

What a difference two weeks make in today’s NFL. A scant two weeks ago the Cincinnati Bengals were riding high, sitting at 5-2, fresh off a shellacking of the Ravens, with the number one seed in the AFC. A mere two weeks later and they are in third in their own division. Oh, how the temporarily mighty have fallen.

Sunday at a sold-out Paul Brown Stadium, against a wounded Browns team rife with internal turmoil, the Bengals had an opportunity to right the ship and restore faith that the first two months weren’t make-believe. Turns out they were likely make-believe.

The good vibes from a 5-2 start are all but gone, replaced with that unease of the first two seasons of the Taylor/Anarumo regime. Lack of focus, intensity, and seemingly any sort of cohesive offensive game plan has once again taken the wind out of the collective sails of a fan base already short on reasons to show up on Sundays.

Heading into a much-needed bye, the Bengals are faced with more questions than answers. It would be easy to lay the recent struggles on injuries, premium competition, weather, or any other scapegoat, but the fact remains that after the Raven game, the Bengals have largely beaten themselves with sloppy defensive play, lack of focus, and execution on offense, and an inability of this coaching staff to handle success.

Being unable to handle success is the most first-world of problems, but it is real, and on exhibit at Paul Brown Stadium. On its face, it appears that the media attention lavished on the team after the Ravens win was perhaps the worst-case scenario.

The team coasted into New York expecting to roll the Jets, and we saw how that turned out. With a golden opportunity at redemption in front of a home crowd, we get a similar disjointed, sloppy effort. It’s hard to gauge what’s most disappointing.

Is it the inability of the defense to handle even the most mediocre of quarterbacks? After all, Mike White and Baker Mayfield aren’t exactly good NFL quarterbacks, yet the defense made them look like the second coming of Marino and Elway. You simply cannot let these types of things happen if you hope to compete with the NFL elite.

Is it the lack of imagination of offense? With weapons like the Bengals have, there is no reason to founder offensively like they did Sunday against the Browns.

Joe Burrow doesn’t go without blame during this two-game skid. The line gets a lot of grief, and rightfully so, but as we have seen during his brief career, Joe Burrow has a tendency to hold the ball too long. There were a couple of plays Sunday where Burrow could’ve cut and run, or just flipped the ball out of bounds to save a sack, but he at times tries to force things that aren’t there. All good in the SEC, but doesn’t play well in the NFL.

The fault isn’t entirely Burrow’s however, as Zac Taylor’s play-calling has been suspect at best, especially during this two-game skid.

What is this offense? What is Ja’Marr Chase? Is Chase simply a deep threat ala Randy Moss? Are defenses taking Chase out of the game by keeping him bottled up short, and in the middle of the field?

If this is the case, the onus is on Taylor and his staff to find ways to move Chase around and provide mismatches. Even so, the weapons are there to exploit defenses when Chase goes missing. In what could’ve been a Tyler Boyd game Sunday, he had fewer targets than Drew Sample. Drew Sample. That is shameful and an indictment of the entire offensive coaching staff. This simply cannot happen.

So where do the Bengals go heading into a much-needed BYE week?

The Bengals are by no means out of the mix.

The AFC is decidedly down this year, and nine or 10 wins should secure a playoff spot but the big question is — Can the Bengals get there?

There are winnable games on the schedule. The Bengals come out of the bye against an overachieving Raider team, on the west coast in what could be perhaps the biggest game of the Taylor era.

Get this team prepared to play and beat the Raiders and all will be well again, stumble and bumble like the last two weeks and Taylors seat will be toasty hot, and rightfully so. There is simply too much talent assembled to allow inadequate coaching to hold it back.

The remaining games against the 49ers, Broncos, and Chargers should be very winnable. With three division games left, the stripes have to steal one, which would mean beating either the Ravens or Steelers in Cincinnati.

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Every remaining game, including the Chiefs game, should be considered winnable, but some soul searching and accountability in the locker room will need to transpire during the bye or we will be planning for the draft once again by Christmas.