Here are my thoughts following the Bengals' 38-24 season-opening loss on the road against the New England Patriots.
The Bengals were outcoached so bad that it was embarrassing
They saved face late in the game, but one team was clearly prepared to start the NFL season and one was not. I predicted that the Bengals would struggle against the Patriots and was surprised so many Bengal fans (and people in the national media) were so confident Cincinnati would win this one. But I didn't think the team would go out, completely lay an egg and find itself facing a 31-3 deficit early in the third quarter. The Patriots jumped out 24-0 like it was nothing and it looked like the Bengals of old there for a while. I mean Dave Shula and Bruce Coslet old. The Bad-News Bengals.
I am very familiar with seeing Marvin Lewis on the short end of the head-coaching stick each week and was not surprised to see Bill Belichick get the best of him. I'm also used to predictable play-calling from offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (who wasn't great, but didn't do a terrible job on Sunday).
However, I'm not accustomed to seeing Mike Zimmer's defense get torched like that. The only thing that prevented the Patriots from going over 500 yards of total offense was an interception return for a touchdown and a kickoff returned for a TD. That gave their offense less time with the ball and there was not as much of a need for points when they did have it in the second half. When the Pats had the ball, you had the feeling they could do whatever they wanted at any time. Not what we're used to seeing from a Zim-coached unit. (In fairness, this will be one of the best offenses they face all year.)
Speaking of that kickoff return for a TD, it also seems like special teams coach Darrin Simmons manages to get out-coached by the opposing ST coach each week. I mean, it's not as bad as the Al Roberts days, but it's still not up to par.
However, kudos to Mike Nugent for nailing a career-high-tying 54-yard field goal to get the Bengals on the board late in the first half. Who knows how bad this game would have turned out if Nuge didn't get some momentum going in the right way for the visitors. The Bengals have found their kicker for years to come. Not only is he a good FG kicker, Nugent booms his kickoffs into the end zone. I know Bengal fans are not used to seeing that after years of watching Shayne Graham struggle to reach the 10.
By the way Antwan Odom looked...
... The Bengals won't miss him very much when/if he has to serve his four-game suspension. Odom is appealing the suspension and claiming the positive test for PEDs was due to a prescription drug that he's taking. However, every professional athlete that is busted for PEDs has some lame excuse to go with it, so I'm not going to apologize for being skeptical about Odom's situation.
But just based on his performance in the preseason and the first week against the Patriots, this is not the same player that racked up eight sacks in five games last year (and then got hurt in the sixth game of the season against Houston). A ruptured Achilles is a tough injury to come back from when you're a pass-rushing defensive end that relies on burst.
I was surprised that...
... Second-round pick Carlos Dunlap was inactive for the game. If this were hockey, we'd call him a "healthy scratch." I guess the coaches think Frostee Rucker is better than Dunlap, but from what I saw in the preseason, Dunlap will be out there for the Bengals before long. Of course he'll be needed when Odom serves his suspension, but even before/after that I expect to see him on the field.
Johnathan Joseph is beyond excellent
In addition to being a lockdown coverage corner, he can lay the wood. The Bengals will have to pay him a bundle to keep him after this season, but he's worth it. Clearly one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Leon Hall is also very good - giving the Bengals one of the best corner tandems in football - but Joseph is even better. He is a complete cornerback and I just hope Mike Brown doesn't find a way to screw it up when it comes to his impending second contract. He could always be franchised, but that could cause a holdout.
Anyway, we're months away from having to worry about that. There is a season upon us and Joseph looks primed for a Pro Bowl year.
Andre Smith is so awful...
... That he's still splitting snaps (at best) at right tackle with former undrafted free agent Dennis Roland. What a bust Smith has turned out to be and all the warning signs were there when the Bengals took him with the sixth overall pick of the 2009 draft. I hope he makes me eat those words one day (I shouldn't mention "eating" around Big ‘Dre) but it's not looking good at this point. You would think the No. 6 pick of the draft would have beaten out someone like Roland by now. Nope.
On a positive note, gotta love rookies Gresham, Shipley and Atkins
I was wrong about tight end Jermaine Gresham and I'm very happy that's the case. I wanted Dez Bryant (and still think he's going to have a great career) and I'm not a fan of drafting tight ends in the first round. However, what isn't there to like about Gresham? He has good hands, is extremely athletic, has ideal size for the position and is a willing blocker.
Basically, he is a beast amongst men. On his first career TD reception (and the Bengals' first of the season) Patriots safety James Sanders had good coverage on him, but Gresham brushed him off like he wasn't even there. He boxed Sanders out like a basketball player, flicked him aside like an annoying gnat and snatched the well-placed ball from Carson Palmer.
As for Shipley, he is an absolute gamer. The third-round pick is going to be an ideal slot receiver for years to come in the league. He got to see first-hand how it's supposed to be done by Wes Welker and the Bengals are hoping he turns into their version of Welker. (There is a rule in our society that people must only compare white receivers with other white receivers. It's imperative that we all follow this mandate.)
And while we're on the topic of rookies, it looks like the Bengals got one hell of a steal in fourth-round defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He is so good that third-year player Pat Sims (a former third-rounder) was made inactive on Sunday. You don't find many players that could be labeled as a "pass-rushing DT" while still being decent against the run, but it appears as though the Bengals landed one in Atkins.
At least the Browns lost
The last thing we needed after an opening-game loss was to hear Browns fans chirping about beating one of the worst teams in the NFL. However, alas, the Browns were unable to beat said terrible team - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - and that will make living in Columbus much-more bearable. Guarantee you'd have Brown fans thinking playoffs if they had beaten the awful Bucs today and they'd be talking all about it. So, there was something to feel good about today, despite the Bengals coming out lackadaisical (and the Steelers winning even without their starting rapist, er, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who is serving a four-game suspension for rape-like activities).
Dhani Jones sucks
His nickname should be "Day Late and a Dollar Short." There is a reason two good franchises like the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles released this guy. It's time Rey Maualuga takes over as the Bengals' starting middle linebacker so Dhani can get back to worrying about his wardrobe, his TV show and whatever else he's doing when he's not missing tackles, taking poor angles and being too slow in general to be a good NFL linebacker.