No quick fix for Bengals' problems - unless it's playing Texans

Houston, they have problems, too

CINCINNATI — A season honoring some of the Bengals' greatest players has started with one of the worst losses they've ever experienced. And there's no quick fix to the biggest problems.

Unless it's playing another team that bombed in its opener.

The Bengals honored some of the best players in their history at halftime of the season opener Sunday, the start of their 50th season in franchise history. The current Bengals wound up shut out in a home opener for the first time.

Baltimore's 20-0 win was one for the record books. Coach Marvin Lewis called it one of his most disappointing games.

"We didn't score any points — that's the biggest reason," he said Monday.

The Bengals host Houston (0-1) on Thursday night, leaving them little time to fix shortcomings. On the other hand,  the Texans appear to be in just as much disarray as the Bengals following Houston's 29-7 loss to Jacksonville. Their coach can't decide on a QB - he yanked the starter at halftime in the opener; the offensive line gave up a franchise-record 10 sacks, and the normally-reliable defense couldn't stop Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 100 yards and a TD in his NFL debut.

Houston cornerback and former Bengal Johnathan Joseph on what went wrong: "Just got punched in the mouth today ... no other words can describe it."

Sound familiar? 

"It was a terrible day on offense, but it wasn't that much better defensively ... we have a lot of work to do," Houston coach Bill O'Brien said. "I told the team we've got to stick together and we've got to get back to work right away."

J.J. Watt returned after missing 13 games last season after back surgery, but injured his finger in the first half and finished with just one tackle. Watt described his play as "terrible."

"There's only way to go from here and that's up. Can't play much worse," Watt said.

You could say the same for the Bengals.

A lot figured into their first shutout at Paul Brown Stadium since 2001, two years before Lewis arrived. The worst moments were on an offense that was considered the strength of the team.

The Bengals managed only 221 yards, their lowest total since a 24-3 home loss to the Browns in 2014, a span of 42 games. During that Thursday night loss, Andy Dalton had his worst passer rating — 2.0 — while throwing for only 86 yards with three interceptions.

Against the Ravens, he finished with his second-worst passer rating at 28.4 while matching his career high with four interceptions . He also lost a fumble.

It wasn't only the quarterback. The Bengals knew heading into the season that their fate would rest largely with an inexperienced offensive line. They lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler — their best linemen — in free agency and decided to replace them with unproven, young players.

There's no easy fix to what happened Sunday. Dalton was sacked five times and was under constant pressure. The Ravens held their ground and batted away passes. The running game managed only 77 yards total. Cincinnati gained 90 yards in the second half, continuing its pattern of struggling after halftime.

The offense never got into a consistent flow last season, Ken Zampese's first as offensive coordinator. Seven times, they scored seven points or fewer in the second half, getting blanked twice.

Zampese used his running backs interchangeably Sunday. Giovani Bernard was in for 29 plays, rookie Joe Mixon for 22, and Jeremy Hill for 10. Bernard had seven carries for 40 yards, with 23 of them on one play. Mixon carried eight times for 9 yards. Hill had six carries for 26 yards.

Lewis defended the mix of running backs on Monday.

"I think it was fine," he said.

Injuries contributed to the struggles last season, when Bernard, receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert missed significant time. The Bengals expected big things with all of them back, but instead had one of their worst games ever.

"It's a reality check," Hill said.


The Bengals have been blanked 19 times in their history, six times at home. They've sustained back-to-back shutouts only once, in 2000. They lost at Jacksonville 13-0 and at Baltimore 37-0 in the second and third games that season, prompting coach Bruce Coslet to resign. Two members of that team — center Rich Braham and linebacker Takeo Spikes — will be among those honored at halftime on Thursday.


Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones is eligible to return Thursday after serving a one-game suspension for his offseason misdemeanor conviction. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has two more games on his suspension for his latest egregious hit.


Lewis is planning on rookie Deshaun Watson starting at quarterback for Houston. He took over after halftime in a 29-7 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday.

"I'd expect Deshaun to be the quarterback," Lewis said. "I'll be surprised if he's not."


Lewis declined to provide updates on RG Trey Hopkins (left knee) or DE Michael Johnson (concussion). Both were injured Sunday.

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