Disappointing, frustrating, embarrassing — all words the Cincinnati Bengals used to describe Sunday’s loss.
The New Orleans Saints scored on nine straight drives, racked up 509 yards of offense and handed the Bengals a 51-14 loss Sunday in front of 52,492 fans at Paul Brown Stadium in what was one of Cincinnati’s most lopsided defeats in franchise history.
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If Sunday’s performance alone wasn’t bad enough, Cincinnati (5-4), which has only twice before lost by 37 points, also became the first team in NFL history to give up 500 yards of offense in three straight games. New Orleans (8-1) has won eight in a row.
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Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Defense isn’t improving
The Bengals had an extra week to prepare for the Saints’ offense, and it didn’t make a bit of difference.
Drew Brees and the Saints’ dynamic offense moved with ease against a depleted Bengals defense, which was without several key players and then lost cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to a concussion late in the second quarter. Brees completed 22 of 25 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and Mark Ingram rushed for 104 yards on 13 carries.
The Saints had 33 first downs and 74 plays, and they converted 6 of 6 third downs in the first half and 7 of 12 for the game. Through the first three quarters, they faced one third down needing longer than three yards and had four of those situations in all. New Orleans didn’t have a single punt and the only drive it didn’t score on was the final one when the Saints kneeled out the clock.
“They have a lot of weapons on the field, but we have to find a way to tackle better and just be in the right spots because it seems like every week, and we can’t keep doing that,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “We did a poor job on first to second down. If they did have a third down it was third-and-2 or third-and-1 and I don’t know if they punted but it didn’t seem like they did.”
2. No easy fix
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has tried some different things, including three-safety packages Sunday and having the cornerbacks follow certain receivers in the previous game against Tampa Bay.
Yet, nothing seems to be making a difference. The linebacker play has been especially weak, so perhaps once Nick Vigil and/or Vontaze Burfict are back, that helps (though Burfict played his worst game in a 45-10 loss to the Chiefs), but Cincinnati has been bad on third down all season and is allowing 450 yards per game.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he was not going to talk about whether he would consider a change at coordinator, but players maintain they still have faith in Austin.
“We haven’t lost faith,” cornerback William Jackson III said. “We all just need to go out and grind. He called great plays. We just have to go out and execute. … They prepared us for this moment. They ran plays we ran in practice and prepared for. We just have to execute the call and take thinking out of it and play.”
3. Offense needed to help
The offense didn’t do its part in staying on the field and sustaining drives, as the Bengals had just 13 first downs and didn’t convert a third down. Cincinnati held the ball for just a third of the possession time, finished with 284 yards of offense, and Andy Dalton threw two interceptions and just one touchdown, a two-yard pass to John Ross.
A 75-yard scoring drive in the first quarter was a strong start, but the Bengals didn’t get to third down on that drive and Joe Mixon had four yards for 35 carries to help mix up the play calling. Cincinnati seemed to go away from Mixon after that, but Lewis insisted that was because the dynamics of the game changed.
Five negative plays and four sacks also contributed.
“We knew during the game, whatever the defense does, we’ve got to go out and score points,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. “Regardless, we have to outscore them. We knew they were going to score several times. It just came down to our offense, how we react, how we handle it. It didn’t go our way, so it hurts.”
4. Penalty stopped early momentum
With the Bengals trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, Lewis decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Saints’ 40-yard line, but a false start penalty on Matt Lengel forced them to punt instead, and the offense only crossed midfield three more times.
“That was the turning point because they couldn’t stop us,” Boyd said. “I believe we would have gotten the fourth-and-1 easily, but it’s hard letting an offense like them control the ball like they did. We’ve got to control the ball longer.”
After the penalty, the Saints drove down and made it 21-7, and trailing two scores is a lot different than being down one touchdown in a game that might need won as a shootout.
5. Putting frustration aside
The Bengals have won just one of their last four games but play a big AFC North game next week at Baltimore, which could swing the season and ultimately could decide their playoff fate.
Brown said the frustration level “is at an all-time high” for him, but it’s time for individuals to self-access and step up and to avoid trying to place blame on others.
“We’ve got a lot to play for,” Brown said. “We still have a lot of division games to play. We’ve got to go to Baltimore and get a win. We don’t know who their quarterback is going to be, but we have to find a way to get a big win to shake this rust off because we can’t keep giving up 500 yards and expect the offense to score 50 if we can’t get anything.”