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Browns Haunt Bengals on Halloween

It may have been Halloween, but there was nothing tricky about it. No treats either. There were no spooky ghosts, no evil spirits, no vengeful demons. Nobody was hoodwinked, and there was zero tomfoolery. No, this was a classic, old-fashioned, everyday beat down.

It was reasonable to expect the Cincinnati Bengals might struggle without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Whatever last night was though…that was not reasonable.

In a 32 - 13 dump-trucking of the Bengals at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, everything fell apart. Here are some comments I jotted down during the course of the game:

  • Can’t run the ball

  • Can’t stop the run

  • Passes keep getting tipped at the line of scrimmage

  • Can’t pass deep

  • Can’t find Tyler Boyd or Tee Higgins

  • Can’t pass protect

  • Can’t stop another backup QB

  • Dropped pass by Michael Thomas

  • Dropped pass by Joe Mixon

  • Bad punt by Kevin Huber

  • Missed field goal and extra point by Evan McPherson

And that’s just the stuff I noticed. I’m sure the list of issues that Zac Taylor and the coaching staff are evaluating is much, much longer. You can’t sum up an embarrassing defeat like that in eleven bullet points.

So, what happened? Was this (in my talk radio voice) more about the Browns playing to their potential, or the Bengals playing down to their competition? Did the Browns win this game, or did the Bengals lose it?

The unfortunate reality is the Bengals were set up for a big letdown. They were without Chase, who’s been one of the best offensive players in the NFL over the last two seasons. They were facing a desperate Browns team that had lost four straight and needed a win to keep their postseason dreams alive. And worst of all, they were facing a premier edge rusher in Myles Garrett.

Think back to Weeks 1 & 2 of the season. The Bengals started 0 - 2 after facing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. What do those two teams have in common? A generationally talented pass rusher. The Steelers have 2021 Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. The Cowboys have Micah Parson, the current favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year award and a potential 2022 MVP candidate. The Browns have Garrett, who may not get as much media attention as his peers, but he’s every bit their equal on the football field.

As has been the case numerous times this year, the offensive line was the primary culprit for the Bengals failures last night, allowing five brutal sacks. Left tackle Jonah Williams, in particular, was abused constantly. He’s been a liability in 2022, and that’s hard to understand given he was the Bengals most consistent lineman last year and he’s currently playing for a new contract. He needs to step up his game - and fast - because this won’t be the last time the Bengals face Garrett, or the last time they face a premier pass rusher.

Not to be outdone, the Bengals defense decided to make an appearance - except, not in a good way. Remember how they hadn’t allowed a touchdown in the second half of a game all season? Well, that was never going to last, but to give up three second half touchdowns? To the Browns? And Jacoby Brissett?

Some offense to Brissett, but he’s not good. There’s a reason no team wants him to be a long-term starter. Against the Bengals, though, he looked like Brett Favre.

To make matters worse, the Bengals top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie suffered a torn ACL in the game, and with #2 corner Eli Apple already missing with a hamstring injury, covering the Browns receivers fell to Trey Flowers and rookie Cam Taylor-Britt. Suffice to say, they were not up to the task.

So now the Bengals are 4 - 4. Back to square one.

Here’s the good news: the Bengals are down, but far from out. The AFC is as tight and competitive as it's ever been. There’s plenty of time for a rebound.

But last night was eye-opening, in more than a few ways.

The offensive line, even with all the resources they poured into it and with four new starters, is still a liability. The run game is anemic. The defense probably isn’t as good as they played the first seven weeks. Without Chase in the lineup, the pass game isn’t explosive. Their special teams isn’t that special.

And on that note, I’m revoking “Money” McPherson’s nickname, at least temporarily. Consider this a probationary period. Let’s be real here: you can’t miss a 47-yard field goal and an extra point and still be called “Money”. It’s unseemly.

Still though, all hope is not lost. Ja’Marr isn’t gone forever. Joe Burrow is still around. This is still the core of a team that went to the Super Bowl last year. They have plenty of talent to make another run.

But time is running out. They’re 0 - 3 in the division. They’ve dug themselves a mighty hole. If they have any desire to win the AFC North, they can’t afford another letdown like Monday night. You can blame it on magic, a spell or a jinx, but whatever it was, Halloween was a nightmare for the Bengals - but it’s a nightmare they have to move on from in a hurry.

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