The Bengals have earned our trust, but Week 1 loss to Browns was alarming
Sep. 11, 2023 12:34 p.m. ET
It’s only Week 1, so this is no time to panic. Quality shines through in the end and the Cincinnati Bengals have proven their quality. Overreactions are for the foolhardy, so let’s cool our jets for a minute.
But only a minute.
Because, while logic and experience dictate that premature panic is a route to ridicule, the Bengals’ season-opening performance on Sunday was bad enough to generate genuine concern.
Joe Burrow, he of the freshly inked, history-making contract worth $55 million per year, had the worst display of his entire pro career. Tee Higgins, key component of a supposedly irrepressible offense, did not snare a single catch. Ja’Marr Chase, who can now add “trash talk cautionary tale” to his resume, had a team-leading 39 receiving yards. Yep, it was that ugly.
The Cleveland Browns, supposedly troubled after a tumultuous summer, made mincemeat of Cincy, burying Burrow and his highly touted group in a blitz of dropped catches, poor decisions, bad blocks, improper formations and communication lapses during a 24-3 setback.
And it all just kind of made you wonder.
When we compile a case in our mind’s eye for teams likely to contend at the business end of an NFL season, we imagine an incremental build. That’s why the most popular pick to win a Super Bowl most years — this one included — isn’t necessarily the team that did it last season but the team that came closest.
That’s why the Philadelphia Eagles are the most beloved tip for this season, and why the Bengals were right up there in the prediction stakes too, having reached Super Bowl and then last season’s AFC Championship before falling narrowly to eventual champion Kansas City.
Yet it often doesn’t work that way. Windows of opportunity can be brief and fleeting. Chances must be taken when they arise. Once you’re at the top and everyone is looking closely, the requirement to counteract the adjustments that are going to be made against you presents a new level to the challenge.
That’s what the Bengals are facing. The story of their season will hinge on how they react to it. The earliest indicators weren’t especially good.
This weekend will confer a chance to respond against the Baltimore Ravens, a shot at a morale-boosting rebound to set the campaign on track. It will have to be a lot better than Sunday, an afternoon in which the Bengals ended the game with Jake Browning under center as Burrow sat late with just 82 passing yards to his name.
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This isn’t the kind of thing we have come to expect from Cincinnati. From nowhere, the Bengals became part of the NFL’s elite furniture, a stable, unshakeable presence at the sport’s top echelon.
They had the vibe of the bully. They looked like a team poised to dominate the AFC North again. Although the Browns had provided some of Burrow’s stickier moments, with a home win last season, it didn’t feel like it they had assumed any kind of bragging rights. They do now.
Chase played a role in that, providing bulletin-board material in the preceding week by referring to the Browns as “elves” and predicting a comprehensive win. It was funny at the time. The joke ended up being on him.
“I’m mad because I called (them) elves and we just lost to some elves,” Chase told reporters. “I’m pissed on my part. We got missed opportunities. We didn’t capitalize on that and we lost. I’m holding it on me.”
It should be noted that Burrow and the Bengals haven’t always been the most rapid of starters, even in the season they made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
That year began with a 5-4 record. Last year was 4-4, though it felt that the fact they didn’t lose a 2022 regular-season game after October would be the more prevailing factor, even when Burrow lost weeks of training camp with a calf injury.
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Instead, it will need to be another round of picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and stepping things up as the weeks roll by.
“Nobody is panicking in here,” Burrow told reporters, as you might expect, a worthy message that will probably be heard reverberating around 15 other locker rooms following the opening set of games.
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“Week 1 doesn’t define anybody’s season — we have been in this spot before and come back stronger and had great years,” he added, and he’s right there too.
“That’s what we are going to do,” he said, finally, and that’s the part that remains to be seen. No panic, no overreaction, no overt need for concern just yet.
But it is time for the Bengals, fond of talking loudly and confidently, to back up their words with actions.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on X/Twitter at and .
This content was originally published here.