Andy Dalton lets Bengals down again in prime time; now what?

Not all 0-2 starts are created equal.

After a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans on Thursday night, this one looks pretty disastrous for the Cincinnati Bengals.

After a second loss to start the season, another ugly performance against an unimpressive opponent, the Bengals have 10 days to try to figure out how to turn things around. It won’t get easier when they travel to Green Bay.

There’s not much reason to think they can beat anyone in the NFL the way they have played so far this season.

Two weeks in a row, the Bengals have faced teams with major questions at quarterback.

Two weeks in a row, they have lost while their own quarterback was outplayed.

The first time it was Joe Flacco, a veteran with a Super Bowl ring, but one who missed the preseason while nursing a back injury.

He didn’t do much as the Ravens embarrassed the Bengals 20-0 on opening day, but he didn’t have to. Dalton committed five turnovers, and Flacco’s defense didn’t allow a point.

Thursday night it was Deshaun Watson, a college star and first round pick with great potential, but one making the first start of his NFL career on a short week on the road.

READ MORE: Texans top Bengals in prime time

Watson wasn’t spectacular in the pocket, but he moved the chains when his team needed him to as the game wore on, finishing 15-for-24 for 125 yards passing and 125 yards.

He also scored the only touchdown, a spectacular 49-yard scramble two plays after he was nailed in the chest by Geno Atkins.

Right after his Welcome To The NFL moment, Watson introduced himself to fans of the league who didn’t have the pleasure of watching him dazzle at Clemson.

Yes, a Bengals team with postseason aspirations lost because a rookie quarterback made one play.

Meanwhile, their veteran signal caller made none, maintaining a theme from 2016 when Dalton came up small in multiple key games during the stretch of the season in which they fell out of playoff contention.

Is this supposed to be happening in Year 7?

Well, it did.

The Bengals offensive line struggled again, but that was no surprise. As expected, a unit that wasn’t very good didn’t get better by losing its two best players.

But they still had a chance to win, one that would have been much better if Dalton hadn’t again missed multiple open receivers on occasions when he did have time.

A fumble by rookie receiver John Ross also cost the team three points, and Dalton would have had a touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert if his tight end hadn’t stepped out of bounds first.

But even that throw nearly took Eifert out of bounds despite his being all alone in the end zone.

Dalton, who completed 20 of 35 passes for 224 yards without an interception or a touchdown pass, has never been considered a physical marvel. He doesn’t have a particularly strong arm, and he isn’t a threat as a runner, but he’s found a way to win more games than he’s lost in the NFL.

And yet if the team rarely seems to rally around him, and if he’s not going to hit open receivers, it’s fair to wonder what Dalton brings anymore.

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After the game, Marvin Lewis said Dalton’s job is safe.

The quarterback expressed thanks for that sentiment, but his response to a question about whether or not the criticism of him is justified wasn’t exactly inspiring.

"We haven't won,” Dalton said. “Obviously the quarterback gets the blame. Obviously last week I didn’t play my best game, and I want to look at the tape today and see how much more I can do.

“Like I said, all I'm trying to do is trying to play the best I can, and we're gonna look at it and see what we need to do to get there."

After another prime-time, nationally televised stinker, is that ever going to be enough?

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