Wide receiver Greg Little made his Bengals debut Sunday with one catch for 13 yards despite joining the club only on Tuesday.
INDIANAPOLIS _ In one of the more mystifying weekly turnarounds in Bengals history, they are trying to figure out how they went from having their best offensive day in seven years last week to getting shut out Sunday on a historically-low 135 yards in the 27-0 loss to the Colts.
"I don't know," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We did it, though."
They did it in such excruciating fashion at Lucas Oil Stadium, failing on their first 11 third downs and converting one of 13 by being unable to execute the simplest of tasks. From nearly getting running back Giovani Bernard hospitalized by missing blocks on screens to newly-acquired wide receiver Greg Little dropping his first target as a Bengal just beyond the first-down stick on third down, no one was immune.
More mystery. It was just last Dec. 8 thye rolled the Colts for 430 yards and 42 points at Paul Brown Stadium.
Their first snap of the game saw Jermaine Gresham lose five yards on a tight end screen. The game ended with Dalton sacked. The only things in between were historical nuggets.
The only game in this century where they had fewer yards in a game they were trying to win came against a Ravens defense coached by Bengals head man Marvin Lewis in 2000. And the last time they got shut out in a game that mattered came nearly 13 years to the day the Bears whacked them 24-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
"We have to come back and play the best we have,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "We have to be tough skinned. We just didn't make any plays and we were third-and-long all day. Third-and-long in the NFL that many times is death."
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had been sacked just twice coming into the game, but that was doubled Sunday to go along with nine quarterback hits and a running game that averaged 2.7 yards per carry as the Colts called off their signature blitzes for the most part, loaded up the box to stop the run, and dared the Bengals backup receivers to beat them.
They didn't and the Colts front beat the Bengals offensive line, too.
Maybe it was fitting that the worst offensive showing in the 54 games of the Green-Dalton Era came without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. Dalton targeted his wide receivers 17 times of 36 attempts and got five catches and one longer than 12 yards. His leading receiver, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu with 54 yards, caught three of his nine targets. The newest Bengal, wide receiver Greg Little, had as many targets and catches as the starter opposite Sanu as Brandon Tate finished with two and one, respectively.
Lewis' answer to the question about how the Colts exposed the lack of Green said it all.
"I think that's kind of an obvious question," Lewis said. "When you don't have one of your better players, it's a difficult thing when you don't score points, but you can't use that as an excuse. We didn't play well enough across the board."
"They were able to get pressure on the quarterback and cause confusion at the line of scrimmage, so the timing of everything was off," Sanu said. "They weren't really handsy. They didn't put their hands on us the way I thought they would. They were able to get pressure on the quarterback and disrupt our routes."
Turnarounds? The Bengals came into the game leading the NFL with an average of 7.05 yards on first down. They don't now after averaging 2.5 yards on their 22 first-down snaps.
"We felt like we had a good plan coming in, but at the end of the day, you have to execute it,' said Dalton, whose 126 yards were his lowest passing yards ever in a loss he played all the way. "I think it goes to show, I think it is a good wake up call for everyone on this team that we are, we have expected to be in every game, we have expected to play a lot better and we did not do that today.
"We felt early on we just needed to get a first down and we kept getting stopped. You pile that on and not getting first downs, getting third-and-longs, you are going to get stalled a lot."
They never got going enough to stall. The misery on first down led to the futility on third down when they opened the game with 11 straight third-down whiffs. Nine of them were seven yards or longer.
"Anytime you're in the longer distances, it makes it tough from being able to do what you want to do and so that's what hurt us and hurt us on third downs as well. Getting in third-and-long situations," Dalton said. "I think it comes down to execution and getting guys blocked, breaking tackles and doing whatever you can. We didn't get that done today.
"We had really good IDs on everything," Dalton said of the blitz. "It felt like we were able to see everything that was coming, but I have to do a better job at getting the ball in my hands and we have to find ways to block guys. They have an extensive blitz package but we were prepared for it."
This is the kind of day it looked like the Colts prepared with the Bengals playbook. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson emptied his call sheet down 17-0 with 6:38 left.
This is the kind of day it was:
On first down from the Bengals 47, Dalton threw backward to Sanu as Sanu looked to throw it. But he had to pull it down twice and lost five yards going out-of-bounds.
"They played zone. We couldn't execute the play," Sanu said. "It was meant for man for man and they played zone."
That's the kind of day it was.