Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals’ third start evoked the same frustration and infrequent promise as the first two…except Cincy TIED their opponent this time around, maintaining a 23-23 deadlock throughout the emotionally-exhuasting 10-minute overtime period. Here’s how it happened:
Cincinnati lost the first coin toss of the game and for the third week in a row started the game on offense, but to no avail. Both Cincinnati and Philly struggled to move the ball in the first quarter with rookie Bengal linebacker Logan Wilson’s interception standing as the lone play of real consequence.
The second quarter instead saw 23 points between the two sides. The Eagles opened up the quarter with a field goal, to which the Bengals answered with their own before giving up another long drive and a three-point kick to Philadelphia, 6-3. To this point, Cincinnati’s offense was stocked with 2-and-10 running plays, worthless screens and a bevy of hits to the fresh-faced star of the franchise, including a particularly rough body punch from Eagles D-lineman Malik Jackson that earned a roughing the passer penalty.
On the first touchdown drive, starting from their own 25, Zac Taylor freed Burrow the passer: 15-yarder to Tyler Boyd, 19 yards to Auden Tate, Tee Higgins for 16, Tate draws a goal-line pass interference and Higgins breaks free for a one-yard TD reception with a savvy fake-block stutter step and release into the back of the end zone; the first score of the Clemson rookie’s career.
But…the Cincy defense drained any and all momentum right before halftime by sailing the kickoff out of bounds before letting Greg Ward get completely free on the right sideline for an easy 29-yard touchdown with less than 20 seconds left. So again, a frustrating end to a half. 13-10, Eagles.
Philadelphia crawled down the field and settled for a field goal to open half No. 2. Burrow got right back to business: 7 yards to AJ Green, who is looking pretty washed-up as a decade-long vet and 32-year-old, 5 yards to Boyd on third down, and then two more targets to Boyd a few plays later for 13 on a third-and-six and 17 on the ensuing first down. One zero-yard run from Mixon later and it was Boyd again for 25 more yards to put Cincy on the 4-yard line.
On first-and-goal, Burrow hit a crossing Higgins for his second touchdown. 17-16, Bengals.
The next possession was another third-down interception for the floundering Carson Wentz. Cincinnati capitalized with just a field goal. Next time out, the Bengals D held strong again and Burrow got comfortable on a 12-play 81-yard drive that featured a herculean bootleg scramble from Joe Burrow who found an open Higgins after spin-cycling a pass rusher and straddling the sideline. However, the moment of fun was cancelled after Doug Pederson challenged the catch from Philly’s end, claiming Higgins had gone out of bounds and come back in before catching the pass, which he did. So no big play.
A few plays later, on a third-and-21, a screen to Gio Bernard popped for 42 yards and set the Bengals up in field goal territory where they stalled out for the second time in a row in the red zone. 23-16. And, really, these last two possessions are the difference between a win and a tie in my eyes. Here’s a list of things I noted from that stretch in the third:
- Two field goals instead of two touchdowns. Enormous wasted chance to not even get one, especially when the first opportunity started on the opposing 44 following a pick.
- Screens, sacks and runs. All terrible options in the red zone. When a defense isn’t spread across the field and is instead contained in a 20 yard radius, the screens and runs are going to be gobbled up quicker at the second level. You have to get creative here and the pass plays have to be QUICK. The second of the two possessions ended in these four plays in a goal-to-go situation: (1st) false start and one-yard pass, (2nd) Burrow sack, (3rd) short pass to Bernard, no where near end zone. Disastrous.
- The Higgins catch only gets challenged by an organized football team with a sickler for a head coach. Pederson and his staff noticed a rather obscure rule and challenged the play correctly. Cincinnati never makes that type of coaching checkmate.
Up 23-16, a late touchdown by Philadelphia was all too predictable. Wentz scampered for a late TD after a huge time-tackling drive that got a boost from two major pass interference calls in succession to start the drive. It was sloppy and unfocused at a critical moment, although I can’t say I’m surprised this coaching staff allowed such back-breaking miscues again in the fourth quarter.
Following the Wentz run, Cincinnati knelt to expire the clock instead of, you know, trying to hail mary themselves into scoring position or making two quick out-passes to set up a long field goal. The total and complete lack of aggression from Bengals play-callers is as disgusting to me as it is unnatural to Joe Burrow. Hand the kid the keys and let him drive you places Cincinnati hasn’t been in ages — like the end zone in a close fourth quarter.
In overtime, Cincinnati just couldn’t get going offensively. A stellar pass break up against Tee Higgins on a third-down where he’d beaten his guy by a step might make you wonder what could have happened, but overall, the extra period was forgettable as it was messy, as Philadelphia took their turn in blowing the game.
It was another stressful Sunday for Bengals fans that ends in confusion and still a little bit of heartbreak. This Eagles team can’t do anything right so far in 2020, and the Bengals still couldn’t capitalize. Oh well, if that means a 3-12-1 season or whatever and the firing of a coach, I would not mind. With the evidence amassed so far, it’s hard to consider Zac Taylor, Lou Anarumo and the rest of the staff are anything but exactly what they are: Losers. They’re 2-16-1 collectively since taking over. Sorry Bengal fans, but none of our Burrow-led Super Bowl visions should include these guys.
Either gain some momentum as the season progresses or get excited about Eric Bienemy (Chiefs offensive coordinator) rumors. Let the Mahomes Maestro take a ride with Joe Burrow. Because right now, this is not working.