Panthers at Bengals: 5 things to know about Sunday’s game

The Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to go into their bye week with a winning record despite an up-and-down first half of the season. A win Sunday against the Carolina Panthers would put them in the same position they were last year at the bye and potentially could be a springboard for a similar second-half run.

Several players and coaches have tried to refrain from talking about the 2021 season that ended in a Super Bowl appearance few would have predicted at the onset. However, after falling short of greater expectations through the first eight weeks of 2022, the Bengals have found last year’s 5-4 start to be a source of encouragement.

Here are five things to know about Sunday’s game

1. No overlooking Carolina

The Panthers have just two wins, but they seem to be figuring things out under interim coach Steve Wilks, who replaced Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start.

After a 14-point loss against the L.A. Rams in Week 6, Carolina scored an upset win over Tampa Bay, and the Panthers just came up short against Atlanta last week. They would have won had Eddy Pineiro’s extra point attempt not failed after P.J. Walker’s “Hail Mary” pass found D.J. Moore for a 62-yard, game-tying touchdown. The Falcons won on a field goal in overtime.

“It’s a good team,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Starting with their defense. They are really equipped with talent across the board. They do a good job with their scheme. That’s evolved a little bit the last three weeks. But really good. … Looking at the offensive side of the ball, the quarterback is playing well they have a lot of confidence in him. And so it is a team that I don’t really care what their record is. We just watch the tape and see the issues that they pose and the talent they have and coaches they have on staff that are really doing a nice job putting them in a position to be successful.”

2. Walker remains starter

Walker, who started training camp No. 4 on the depth chart, remains the Panthers’ starting quarterback, while Baker Mayfield is the backup for a second straight week since he returned from an ankle injury.

The Panthers are riding with Walker after showing Wilks no reason to make a change, even with two first-round picks from the 2018 draft on the roster. Mayfield, a former No. 1 overall pick by the Browns, missed two weeks with the ankle sprain and lost his job while out, and Sam Darnold, a former Jets’ No. 3 overall pick, returned to practice from a preseason finale ankle injury but hasn’t been activated to the roster.

Walker has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 614 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in three starts.

“He can move the offense and he’s done a good job,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “You know, the big play (against Atlanta), he can certainly throw it a long way. The (D.J.) Moore kid can get open, so, he’s not the only one. They got a good group of backs and their O-Line plays pretty well.”

3. Cornerback concerns

Walker’s arm could be a concern for a depleted Bengals secondary. Cincinnati lost No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie for the season Monday when he tore his ACL on a non-contact play against the Browns. Eli Apple is back after missing that game with a hamstring injury, but two other cornerbacks are also dealing with injuries. Slot corner Mike Hilton is out with a finger injury, and Tre Flowers, who replaced Awuzie on Monday but left with a hamstring injury in the second half, is questionable.

Rookie Cam Taylor-Britt got his first start in Apple’s absence Monday and likely will get his second Sunday. Rookie safety Dax Hill spent the week repping at cornerback and could serve multiple roles after he was forced into action when Flowers went down. The Bengals have Jalen Davis available at slot corner but Hill could be needed there or on the outside.

D.J. Moore leads the Panthers receivers with 425 yards and three touchdowns on 33 catches, but Carolina let its other top wideout go when it traded Robbie Anderson to Arizona.

“We really don’t want to change but I’m not going to be stubborn,” Anarumo said. “We’ll still do what we do. We’ll always try to play to the players strengths. That’s what is most important. There’s a fine line about tearing things down and becoming too simple and not being able to game plan and do what we want to do.”

4. Offense seeking answers

Ja’Marr Chase’s absence in the 32-13 loss at Cleveland was noticeable but it wasn’t the only reason the Bengals were shut out through three quarters. Burrow faced consistent pressure, ended up taking two sacks, and Cincinnati turned the ball over twice.

The offensive line took a step back against a talented pass-rush tandem of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Offensive tackle Jonah Williams especially was left on an island and struggled. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said it wasn’t his best but wasn’t concerned about his overall performance.

Cincinnati barely reached 100 yards in the first half, and 26 of those came on a go ball to Chris Evans on the first drive when he created some separation with a linebacker to get open down the sideline. Burrow was intercepted on that drive after Garrett tipped a pass. Evans played just one more snap, and Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd only managed to find the end zone for touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the game was already in hand for Cleveland.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor made it clear Evans’ role isn’t changing. The Bengals are comfortable with what Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are giving them. Mixon had just eight carries for 27 yards, but won’t be losing many carries to another player, and Perine is too good in pass protection.

5. Other injuries of note

Bengals right tackle La’el Collins is questionable with an illness, but outside of that and Hilton’s status being out, there were no big surprises on the injury report Friday.

The Panthers are going to be without running back Chuba Hubbard, who is nursing an ankle injury, and safety Juston Burros (concussion ) and wide receiver Rashard Higgins (illness) are both out. Tight end Stephen Sullivan (illness) is doubtful, and defensive end Amare Barno (knee) and cornerback Donte Jackson (ankle) are questionable.


Panthers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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