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“It’s very concerning,” admitted left tackle Andrew Whitworth after his offensive line mirrored the team and played its best game of the year in the first 37 minutes. “The reality is we’re behind the eight ball and guys have to put their heads down and they have to bring their best effort. You have to play your best every week now. You can’t give anything away. It’s a long road. I’ve been on both sides and in the middle of it. The mistakes have to stop.”
On many NFL Sundays, the mistakes could have been overcome. Not scoring from inside the 1 on fourth down. Two third-down penalties that translated into ten points. A holding call that wiped out a first down. But not this Sunday. Not against the deadly efficient Patriots and the lethal Brady in their cauldron of perfection, who turned the holding call into a crafty safety that ignited 15 points in 4:07 late in the third quarter.
There were some encouraging signs in Sunday’s loss and if the Bengals play like they did for the first 38 minutes, they can beat anybody left on their schedule. But they’re going to have be far more Patriot-like than they’ve been so far.
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“I think there was some growing today,” said Zeitler. “I think that anyone that watched could see some good things on both sides of the ball. Now it’s time to get back to work and figure out the next step.”
There’s no magic formula for fixing things. The return of Tyler Eifert will help (hopefully this Sunday), and young players like Tyler Boyd, Darqueze Dennard, Cedric Ogbuehi, Josh Shaw, and C.J. Uzomah should continue to improve with experience.
But there’s a reason why the Bengals are one of only three teams to go to the playoffs in six of the last seven years. This is a veteran team with established Pro Bowl players. To have any chance of knocking off the Patriots, the core players need to lead the way and everybody on the roster needs to do his part.
“I am an honest person. And I will start with myself. I will look at the film and cheap jerseys and I will be the first one to stand up and say I could have done this better,” Jones said. “I know I missed the tackle early; I have to make the tackle. I think as a group, we need to set down with the coaches and put it up on the board. That is the only way we are get back to how it has normally been. I don’t want to say too much. I am going to start with myself. We will meet; we will look at the film and see how we can get better.”
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Then with the Cowboys giving the Bengals some running room in a deep zone Cover Two that took away Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green on four catches for 50 yards, their most effective runner was quarterback Andy Dalton running for his life against a nondescript Dallas front that looked like the Fearsome Foursome. The Cowboys came in with six sacks, but got four on Sunday by dropping seven into coverage and then confounding the Bengals’ interior line that looked to be simple twists among the front four.
It will be recalled that the last time the Bengals played the Patriots it was two years ago this week and LaFell’s Patriots were coming off a Monday night loss in Kansas City so bad that the fans wanted Tom Brady traded and head coach Bill Belichick didn’t answer any questions about it with the now infamous “We’re moving on to Cincinnati.” They moved on so well they crushed the Bengals, 43-17, and went on to win the Super Bowl.
“We are definitely moving onto New England, especially when you lose like this,’ LaFell said. “We definitely can’t come out next week and play flat like this with a high power offense like those guys have with Tom Brady back. We’ve got to come out and score points. We’ve got to play within the game, we can’t get down 21 points. You can’t win in this league playing like that.”