Yes, we lost.
Yes, it was largely because of a questionable call against A.J. Green.
But there is still a lot to feel good about.
Here are some of the positives:
1. Joe Burrow did Joe Burrow things. Yes, the shovel pass interception was very rookie. But look at what the QB did in the plays before. He picked up a third down on a 15-yard completion to C.J. Uzomah and then found the tight end again on the next play for 19 yards.
Burrow’s final drive was even better. He scrambled for 7 yards, then found Tyler Boyd for two short completions and then John Ross for 15 yards. The next play, he found Ross again, but the call was ruled incomplete on review. How did the rookie QB respond on 3rd and 8? He hit Boyd for 10 yards and a first down with just 1:36 left. Burrow continued to spread the ball around, finding Mike Thomas twice, Uzomah again, Giovani Bernard, and finally A.J. Green for what should have been the game-winning touchdown.
In other words, Burrow was clutch, cool, and accurate when it really mattered. If you’re wondering why he couldn’t do that earlier, the answer is obvious— it took him a little bit to settle down behind bad offensive line play and adjust to his surroundings. But when he did, he looked every part the franchise player the Bengals drafted him to be.
2. The defense was massively improved. The Bengals allowed just 16 points after giving up 26.3 per game last year. The first time they allowed so few points last year was Week 12 against two QBs who belong in the XFL, Devlin “Duck” Hodges and Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals’ tackling was much better against the Chargers, who have their share of playmakers, including Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler. And Geno Atkins is still out. Overall, the defensive unit looked cohesive and capable, things we couldn’t say about them last year.
3. A.J. Green is back! For those wondering if a 32-year-old receiver who’s barely played the last two years could still be a difference maker: first of all, shame on you, but second of all, the answer is yes. Green got wide open deep on 3rd and 6 with about 9 minutes left in the third quarter. Burrow simply missed him, and he knows it, as he said “a high schooler can make that throw.” That alone shows Green still has the jets to be a #1 option. In his QB’s first ever game, one in which the Bengals only passed for 193 yards and the receiver was somewhat limited in his snaps (only 45, fewer than Boyd, Ross, and Uzomah), Green still had 5 receptions for 51 yards.
4. A lot of things went wrong and they were right in the game. Okay, Bullock will miss some more big kicks. And Bobby Hart will whiff on pass rushers. But still— Burrow’s interception was a fluke. It was a young QB with a strong desire to win trying to make something happen when he hadn’t hit on any big plays. Speaking of those plays, Burrow is unlikely to miss Ross or Green for touchdowns very often like he did on Sunday. And Joe Mixon, the only running back since 2018 to go 500 carries without fumbling, is not going to drop the ball very often.
Despite all that misfortune, the Bengals were right in the mix up until the final seconds. Sure calls won’t always go our way, but the OPI on Green was, in my book, offensive— a 6’4 Hall of Fame type receiver doesn’t need to push off to get separation. The refs should know there was a lot of contact both ways before Green’s final shove. But it’s been a while since they’ve seen Green in action. So as he continues to make highlight plays, he’ll start to get more of the superstar treatment he deserves.
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