It was a frustrating loss…a blown opportunity to be alone in first place in the AFC North…against an opponent so depleted by injuries that Tim Tebow made a cameo as America’s most famous emergency receiver.
So why don’t I feel lousy about it?
Because of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Jerome Simpson.
In his 2nd NFL start, Dalton was 27-for-41 for 332 yards, 2 TD, and 0 INT. Green caught 10 of those passes for 124 yards and a spectacular toe-tapping TD. And Simpson had 4 grabs for 136 yards – his 3rd 120-yard receiving performance in his last 4 games.
“You can’t say enough about what those guys did,” said cornerback Leon Hall. “We got off to a bad start and they were able to fire back and keep us in this game.”
After passing for 52 yards in the first half, Dalton threw for 280 yards after intermission. Nearly all of his intermediate throws were right on the money, with the exception of a key 3rd-and-8 pass against a blitz in the 4th quarter that was slightly behind Simpson. A completion would have put the Bengals well within the range of Mike Nugent for a go-ahead field goal attempt.
“I’m a professional receiver and I’m supposed to make those catches,” Simpson told me. “It was just a little bit behind me, but I’m pretty flexible and I make those catches all the time. I didn’t look it all the way in and we had to the punt the ball right there in a key situation.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” said Dalton. “Everybody’s going to have a drop, everyone’s going to make a mistake, but he played pretty good.”
After two NFL starts, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 3 TD and 0 INT for a quarterback rating of 105.7.
“He is primed to be great,” said A.J. Green. “His composure, his confidence, and the way he can throw the ball to everybody.”
“He’s not playing like a rookie – he’s playing like a veteran,” said Simpson. “The guy is poised and he’s a great quarterback man. I’ve got to help him out and make big plays for him because he’s throwing strikes to us and putting the ball where it needs to be.”
While the Bengals made several big plays, their inability to convert on 3rd-and-short cost them the game. Cincinnati was 1-for-11 on third down conversations, including three failed attempts on 3rd-and-1.
“1 for 11? You can’t win football games like that,” said Simpson.
But you can learn from it. And with the youngest roster in the AFC and the third-youngest in the NFL, the Bengals have plenty of room to grow.
“We had a couple of chances late in the game to win, but we didn’t finish and that’s something that we have to do,” said Domata Peko. “With a young team like this and a young quarterback, we have to learn how to finish these games off. We made a lot of mistakes, but we still had a chance to win.”
“We definitely have to learn from this and come out next week and start a lot faster,” said Hall.
“There are a lot of young guys on this offense and we’re learning,” said Green. “We are going to go out there and fight every week.”
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