It was a game the Bengals had to win, and they didn't.
The offensive ineptitude continued in a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans before a crowd of 52,924 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are 0-2 for the first time since 2008.
It's hard to call the second game of the season a must-win game. But the following stat says it almost always is for 0-1 teams: Since 2007, 75 teams have started 0-2. Only eight have made the playoffs.
For the Bengals, a win was critical for more reasons than that troubling playoff stat. The offense was so bad that they needed a boost of confidence or maybe just some notion that they could be successful.
It didn’t happen.
Coach Marvin Lewis started his press conference with an understatement.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t score touchdowns,” he said.
The Bengals have not scored one in eight quarters.
Quarterback Andy Dalton gets the bulk of the blame for that — fairly or unfairly. He went 20-for-35 for 224 yards. He was not intercepted. He was sacked twice. He was under constant pressure, but he also missed open receivers at times.
“This isn’t the way we know we can play,” Dalton said. “We’ve got to find a way to fix it. That’s all we can do right now.”
His job is safe, Lewis said, but he admitted the struggles of the offense are stunning.
“I am shocked,” Lewis said. “Yes, I am. We should be better.”
The game came down to this: The Bengals got the ball back down four points at their 31-yard line with 1:50 left. If they had scored a touchdown, they would have won.
Dalton hit Brandon LaFell for 12 yards on first down. That was the highlight.
Then came an incomplete.
Six-yard pass to Alex Erickson to make it 4th-and-6.
Incomplete after avoiding a sack to make it 4th-and-6.
False start by Jake Fisher, 4th-and-11.
“Everybody has to get their mind right and be ready for these next 14 weeks,” A.J. Green said. “We’ve got find a way.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick echoed that.
“We’ve got to take some time and figure out a way to come together as a team,” Kirkpatrick said. “Rally around each other. We need the offense and the offense needs us.”
As silly as it sounds, it’s getting late early.
“We’re too good for this,” Eifert said. “We’ve got too many good players. It would be terrible to see the season go all for naught if we don’t find a way to get it right. We will.”
The offense seemed to come around on the first drive of the second half. The Bengals even finally scored a touchdown -- or, well, it was a touchdown for a little while. Tyler Eifert caught a 12-yard pass from Dalton, but the points never went on the board. Eifert was penalized for going out of bounds and retiring to make the catch.
Loss of down, no TD.
“I’ve got to be more aware of where I am,” Eifert said. “I was scrambling to get open and looking at the quarterback.”
Dalton had to throw it away off a scramble third down, and the Bengals settled for Randy Bullock's third field goal of the night to make it 10-9.
Here's nine takeaways from the game:
Lewis would not say if personnel changes are coming — either with the coaches or the players.
“I’m not going to sit here tonight and comment on that,” he said. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Again, Dalton’s job is safe.
“I’m not worried about Andy,” Lewis said.
2. Running game?
The Bengals troika of running backs had 63 yards on 20 carries in the first half. That's 3.1 per carry, which is not going to get it done or ease the pressure on Dalton.
3. Elementary, my dear Watson
Deshaun Watson proved to be as dangerous with his legs as his arm at Clemson. That didn't keep the Bengals from rushing him hard during a drive toward the end of the half.
There's danger in that. When the play broke down, Watson took off. He sprinted through the secondary like he was still at Clemson and playing North Carolina State.
He ended up going 49 yards for the score on third-and-15, no less.
“You can’t have those kind of plays if you want to be a dominant group like they can be, you’ve got to dominate for 60 minutes — not 59,” Lewis said.
4. Ross has an impact
Top draft pick John Ross was on the active roster Thursday after being on the inactive Sunday.
His first touch resulted in a big play -- for Houston. Ross took an end around and headed up the left side with speed, but he fumbled when hit by Kareem Jackson. Jadeveon Clowney recovered and returned it 48 yards to the Bengal 21.
“I should have held it higher and tighter,” Ross said.
The defense forced a field goal.
That was Ross’ only touch of the game.
Ross seemed to take the inactive Tyler Boyd's spot. Boyd, the second-round pick last year, had one catch for 11 yards against the Ravens. He was the third leading receiver last year with 54 catches fort 603 yards.
5. Woody Hayes the OC?
The Texans played most of the game with seven offensive linemen, using tackle Julien Davenport and guard Kyle Fuller as eligible receivers. Houston was obviously protecting Watson, who was making his first NFL start.
Houston ran the ball 35 times for 168 yards.
6. Go Green
The Bengal offense did nothing in its first two possessions -- one first down which was nullified by a penalty.
Things changed on the third possession when they finally got A.J. Green involved. The play was one you might draw up on the street. Green just went straight down the field. Dalton lofted the ball into triple coverage. Green came down with it for a 50-yard gain to the Houston 14.
A bad pass by Brandon LaFell netted two yards. Then the play-calling got interesting. A fake reverse lost five yards. Dalton was sacked on ill-fated screen on third down. Randy Bullock hit a 39-yard field to salvage the big play.
Green was targeted eight times in the game. He caught five passes for 67 yards.
“It’s my job to make plays,” he said. “Would I have liked my opportunities? Of course.”
Green said the Houston used a simple pass defense strategy.
“They only played one coverage,” Green said. “Cover 2 Cloud. You’ve got to find a way to beat those coverages.”
7. Many happy returns
The punt return game was the Bengals' offensive weapon in the first half.
Adam Jones returned one from 33 and another eight yards. Alex Erickson returned one for 26 yards -- most of which came after he spun off a would-be tackler.
8. Where's Eifert?
The Bengals did not throw to tight end Eifert until 24 seconds remained in the half. The 22-yard hookup help lead to the last-second field goal to made it 10-6 at half.
The offensive line problems had something to do with Eifert's lack of participation in the passing game. He was used to help on J.J. Watt on a lot of plays.
9. Return of the Pac
Adam "Pacman" Jones, suspended for Game 1, was activated and in the starting lineup Thursday night.
Darqueze Dennard played pretty well in Jones' stead for the Baltimore game. But, despite many polarized opinions about Jones' off-the-field offenses, he's one of the leaders of the team.
"I bring attitude and emotion," he said.
One thing on Jones' to-do list before the game was to give his teammates a talk telling them not to help up an opposing player after a tackle.
"Me personally, I don't," he said. "I don't think there's nothing wrong with that. You play between the lines and go back to the huddle. I didn't say you've got to be nasty. You hit and run back to huddle."
Jones made his impact felt immediately, returning the first punt of the game for 33 yards. He later broke up pass to end the Texans' first drive of the second half.