On a day in which it felt like all the top NFL teams were determined to slip up, the Bengals found a way to get their second-consecutive win against a tough and explosive Seattle Seahawks team. The previously undefeated 49ers and Eagles both fell to teams with backup quarterbacks, and the Bills nearly made it a trifecta. Joe Burrow said after the game that he wouldn’t apologize for a win, and nor should he.
For once, the Bengals started out hot. They came away with touchdowns in their first two possessions, and it looked like, finally, the rust was all the way off…until it wasn’t. After the first two possessions, the Bengals offense mostly resembled two-week old dog crap. A field goal was all they could manage in the second half. And although the offense came to a complete and mystifying halt, the Bengals defense rose to the occasion to save the win.
It was the kind of big-play performance we’ve grown accustomed to over the last couple years, but the kind that’s been frustratingly absent through the first six weeks of the season. Between blown coverages, missed tackles, over pursuing, and losing containment, it felt like the Bengals defense had taken a significant step back this year – that is, until they cleared up a lot of those concerns yesterday.
Facing one of the premier receiver groups in the NFL, the Bengals corners – especially second-year corner Cam Taylor-Britt, who spent much of Sunday matched up against the genetically-engineered football superweapon that is D.K. Metcalf and secured his second interception of the season – were outstanding. Time and again the Seahawks moved the ball but failed to find the endzone thanks to the sticky coverage from Taylor-Britt and the boys on the back end. For a young and inexperienced group, this was the kind of performance that could be a springboard for even more excellence.
Of course, great coverage means nothing if a QB has all the time in the world to throw, and Geno Smith certainly did not get that. Sam Hubbard has had a slow start to his season, but he was in prime form against the Seahawks, exploding for a sack, a tackle for a loss, and five QB hits. Trey Hendrickson was as disruptive as always, grabbing his seventh sack of this young season, while Cam Sample and Logan Wilson also got in on the sack party.
Wilson, in particular, deserves mention for the fantastic game he had against the Seahawks. He finished the day with 11 tackles, two for a loss, a sack and nearly came down with an interception of his own. He’s become a real leader and playmaker for this defense, and the decision to hand him a healthy extension in the offseason looks wiser and wiser by the day.
The defense as a whole balled out on Sunday. It was a little like a throwback effort for these Bengals. Wilson was all over the place, the pass rush made Seattle’s offensive line miserable, D.J. Reader was a one-man wrecking-crew in the run game, and Mike Hilton also made his first splash plays of the season with a tackle for a loss and a key interception of his own. We’ve been asking ourselves if the Bengals defense had taken a step back in 2023, but after their performance against Seattle, those concerns have subsided.
Still, this isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be ironed out. The defense allowed a couple big plays, including a 21-yard sprint by Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker and two 30+ yard completions, and while the Bengals red zone defense saved the day, they won’t always be this fortunate. And as for the offense…goodness gracious, what are we doing?
Two touchdowns in the first two possessions is nice. We like that. But here’s how the Bengals next five possessions ended: punt, punt, interception, punt, punt. That’s uh…that’s uhhh…bad. Horrendous. Except for a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bengals offense was blanked. They got away with it this week, but they’ll need the offense to start carrying more of its weight in the coming weeks, especially with San Francisco and Buffalo on the horizon after the bye week.
And yet, after all of the handwringing and moaning about the Bengals 1 - 3 start, here they are at the bye week at 3 - 3. The Baltimore Ravens are leading the division by one measly game, and there doesn't appear to be a juggernaut in the NFL this year after Philly and Frisco both took their first Ls of the season. It’s remarkable, but the Bengals are right where they want to be – but do they have to make us sweat like this?
All jokes aside, maybe it’s time we consider the Bengals slow starts are by design. Of course, no one wants to lose any games if they can help it – and with there being only one playoff bye-week per conference, the #1 seed is more important than ever – but if you’re going to lose games, they might as well be at the start of the year.
Over the past two seasons, we’ve consistently praised the Bengals for their ability to make in-game adjustments. Have we considered that it’s hard to make those adjustments early in the season when you don’t know that much about the teams you’re playing? That we might be seeing the Bengals perform better later in the year because the coaching staff finally has a good feel for what their opponents do well?
Every day, I feel more and more strongly that these slow starts are by design. Not that losing is part of the plan – but that the Bengals are content to use the first few weeks to learn about themselves and their opponents. The term “extended preseason” gets thrown around too much for the start of the NFL season, but for the Bengals, it appears they may actually give this concept some credence. It might not have looked pretty, but the Bengals found a way to fight back to .500 before their bye week. A win is a win in the NFL, and a two-game winning streak is a two-game winning streak – and even though they haven’t reached their potential through six weeks, no apologies are necessary.