The Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t overcome turnovers, injuries or the Carolina Panthers’ running game Sunday as they suffered their first loss of the season.
With running back Joe Mixon out, Cincinnati turned to its passing game but lost standout wide receiver A.J. Green to a groin injury early in the third quarter and quarterback Andy Dalton ended up with four interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense was unable to stop Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Yet, despite all that, the Bengals still had opportunity to come back in the fourth quarter.
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In the end, they left Carolina with a 31-21 loss. As the Bengals prepare for another tough road test Sunday at Atlanta, here is a look at the report card grades from Week 3:
The Good: Giovani Bernard stepped in for Mixon, and the running game looked promising early on. The Bengals ate up more than six minutes on their first drive and got on the board with a one-yard touchdown run from Bernard for a 7-0 lead. The Bengals relied more on the pass but Bernard still finished with 61 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries (5.1 yards per carry).
The Bad: There was no complement to Bernard to give the ground game a boost. Rookie Mark Walton made his NFL debut but finished with no carries, and newcomer Thomas Rawls was inactive.
Key Play: Walton’s lone touch — a 7-yard carry on first down from the Panthers’ 25 yard line in the fourth quarter after Boyd caught a 49-yard pass — was wiped out by an Alex Redmond hold. That backed Cincinnati up and the Bengals ended up missing a 53-yard field goal at a time they could have tied the game at 28.
The Good: Despite what the stats look like with the turnovers, Dalton actually played pretty well. He faced a lot more pressure this game, had more on his shoulders with Mixon out and still completed 63 percent of his passes for 352 yards. Tyler Boyd had a monster game with 132 yards and a beautiful 27-yard touchdown catch.
The Bad: Four interceptions. Two were tipped balls, one was a heave to the end zone at the end of the game, but John Ross could have better contested two of them and completely stopped his route on one. Green’s third-quarter injury took away the team’s biggest playmaker for the end of the game.
Key Play: With the Bengals trailing 28-21 with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Dalton was sacked for a 10-yard loss and the next play he was intercepted on a play where Ross didn’t even look for the ball. The throw wasn’t all that great either but it was a crucial mistake for the young receiver as Carolina was able to extend its lead to 10 and put the game away.
The Good: After struggling most of the game, Cincinnati did force a punt midway through the fourth quarter by holding Christian McCaffrey and Newton from a first down on three straight runs. That gave the Bengals the ball with 4:21 left and an opportunity to tie the game but nothing came of it.
The Bad: McCaffrey rushed for a career-high 184 yards to account for the bulk of Carolina’s 230 yards on the ground. His previous best was 66. Usually more of a threat as a receiver, McCaffrey exploited weaknesses in a defense that was missing Preston Brown for a second straight game and still one more game away from getting Vontaze Burfict back from suspension. It didn’t help the Ryan Glasgow was carted off in the fourth quarter.
Key Play: McCaffrey juked Shawn Williams in the open field on a run up the middle and dashed for 45 yards on second-and-10 to set up the Panthers’ first score on a Cam Newton touchdown run. That seemed to set the tone for the day.
The Good: The Panthers’ passing game wasn’t the problem as the Bengals held Newton to 150 yards through the air.
The Bad: There was one drive in the second quarter on which Carolina torched Cincinnati’s secondary to take a 14-7 lead. Newton converted four first downs via pass on that drive, including a 27-yard catch by Devin Funchess and a 4-yard quick slant pass to Funchess for the touchdown.
Key Play: Carlos Dunlap tipped a Newton pass for an incompletion on fourth-and-four on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the Bengals good field position at their own 41-yard line. The offense ended up going three-and-out but Carolina had to start its next drive from the 10 and Dunlap ended up with a strip-sack to help stop the Panthers again.
The Good: Cody Core downed Kevin Huber’s 48-yard punt at the 1-yard line late in the second quarter, and Carolina ended up running out the clock to halftime. The Bengals have struggled giving up points at the end of halves, a problem dating back to last year, so the field position was crucial in preventing that this time.
The Bad: Randy Bullock missed his lone field goal attempt on a 53-yarder. There wasn’t much opportunity to do much in the return game. Neither team had many opportunities for returns, though, as all 10 kickoffs went for touchbacks, and there was only one punt return for each.
Key Play: Five days after signing a two-year extension, Bullock had a chance to further prove his worth when he lined up for a 53-yard field goal attempt with the Bengals trailing 28-21 in the fourth quarter. His kick sailed wide left, and the Panthers were able to seal the game with their own field goal on a short drive.
The Good: Despite struggles with turnovers and the run defense, the Bengals still had opportunities to win this game on the road. The offense took some chances on a lot of great deep passes, and Darrin Simmons’ work with special teams proved key in helping Cincinnati avoid giving up points at the end of the first half.
The Bad: The decision to try a 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter could have come back to bite the Bengals when Bullock was unable to come through on just his second ever attempt beyond 50 yards in his time with Cincinnati.
Key Play: The Panthers didn’t end up taking advantage of the short field after the missed field goal by the Bengals, but it ended up flipping the field position on the offense late in the game and that’s when Dalton’s third interception came at the most damaging time.
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