His Bengals are 0-2, but here are two pretty good reasons why head coach Zac Taylor isn't worried about his team imploding before the AFC North race even begins.
Over here in his leadership locker, the one closest to the equipment room and the last one on the way to the cafeteria, is one of the defensive captains, D.J. Reader, the best nose tackle not yet voted to a Pro Bowl.
Over there in the middle of the offensive line lockers, quite fittingly, is center Ted Karras, a two-time Super Bowl champion and one of the offensive captains in his first season with the AFC champion Bengals.
"We know what we have in this locker room. We know what we did last year,' said Reader Monday after the Bengals' brief team meeting sent them into Tuesday's off day. "We know we lost those two games by what? A total of six points? Both on a kick on the last play. It's not like we're not there yet."
Karras, the former Patriot and Dolphin who has never lost to the Jets in 12 games, waved a little Bill Belichick-we're-on-to-Cincinnati as he gets ready for another Jets game on the road this Sunday.
"Always play the Jets every year my career. So, back to MetLife. Here we go," Karras said. "I have all the confidence in the world, in this team, this unit, leaders on this team. So, we're going back to work Wednesday and bounce back at MetLife, Stadium Sunday afternoon.
"I don't think confidence has been dinged. I think when you watch these games, we've put ourselves in positions to where -- when I say 'gotta have it,' it's like do or die at the end where we're playing fourth-down conversions, two-point plays that if we don't get, the game is over. So I don't think anyone's lacking any confidence. I think we're lacking execution and finishing these games that have come down to a kick. That is the reality of this business, one or two plays and we could be feeling really good. I'm not a silver-lining guy like that, but we're sitting at 0-2. We're going to have to dig ourselves out of a hole, and that comes down to starting fast and finishing when we have opportunities."
Guys like Reader and Karras are why there is no need for players' only meetings. Reader once started 0-3 with the Texans and made the playoffs. In Karras' rookie year he played three snaps on the kicking game in a Super Bowl his team won despite trailing, 28-3.
Reader watched on the plane home from Dallas as players studied film from the game on their iPads and offensive players watching defense and defensive players watching offense. "Just everybody trying to figure out what we can do better."
"Starting faster would be our biggest thing as a team," Reader said. "Those ten-point leads, those 14-point leads, they don't turn into 21 … we just need a dub to get it going."
Reader is continuing to use his M.O. that got him voted captain
"As a captain, I ran through the film making sure the guys understand we're close. Just lead by example," Reader said. "Try to talk to (the younger players), understand how hard winning in this league is. Nothing is guaranteed. It's not based on your past successes. You have to put that in the bank every day. You have to go ahead and put that deposit in every day."
A DJ FIRST: Reader came up with one of Sunday's big plays. The Bengals' first turnover of the season came on the first fumble recovery of his NFL career in his 83rd game when he fell on the ball at the Bengals 26 on the third-to-last play of the third quarter. The fumble caused by strong safety Vonn Bell and middle linebacker Logan Wilson allowed the Bengals to tie it, although they only had the ball for five plays before punting in that sequence.
Reader surmised it was the first time he had touched the ball since high school. He said he had a fumble recovery lined up at Clemson for a walk-in TD, but said, "Vic Beasley stole it from me."
"We needed to get that turnover. We needed to finally get one," Reader said.
FAST STARTS: The offense is under the gun for not scoring a first-half touchdown yet. But Reader says it's just not on the offense. In Dallas, the defense gave up an uncharacteristic 33 yards rushing and a 47-yard shovel pass that was basically a run on the first series.
"The first couple of plays, you're feeling out guys instead of making them feel you out," Reader said. "Everybody does it. That's the thing we have to start doing better as a defense is dictating to them what the run game is going to be."
They shut it down. After the Cowboys got 33 yards on five carries in the first series, they got 74 the rest of the way on 22 carries. After they allowed two touchdowns on 150 yards on the first two series, the Bengals gave up just 187 and two field goals the rest of the way.
EXHIBIT A: On Monday, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan ran through a great example of how lack of detail can turn into something big. How, you ask, can Micah Parsons go unblocked on third down and make Joe Burrow unload it?
When there's a failure to communicate. On this play, the Bengals needed tight end Drew Sample to go in the backfield. He wasn't lined up with right tackle La'el Collins and Collins didn't get the call.
"We were in a protection designed to help on the edges. We have no back in the backfield, so we were presented with a look where we had to have a back in the backfield so Drew came in," Callahan said. "Drew communicated to LC he was leaving. We never leave a tackle who is anticipating help. We always tell him we are leaving so he knows. We essentially changed the protection from a five-man protection to a six-man protection. Something we have done 100 times.
"It's not new for us. It looked like everything got communicated. Somehow, someway LC ended up staying down and (Parsons) came free which was, you'd ask him he'd say the same thing, that's an error we can't have on an early third down in the game, in particular. Disappointed that happened. Thought it got communicated well enough and something got crossed up."
COMFORT OF JOE: Joe Burrow has been sacked 13 times and in the two first halves has thrown for just 181 yards, been sacked eight times and thrown three picks with no interceptions. That been the two major themes. Pressure and slow starts, but Callahan thinks he looks comfortable in the pocket.
"He's looked fine, to me. There's been moments he's tried to extend some plays and find some ways to win," Callahan said. "The rush plan the Cowboys had a lot of stunts, a lot of twists. Often he'd look good move off the first guy and here comes the second one on a looper or stunt. It usually was the second guy who got him. He looked comfortable moving. He's seeing it well."
Asked if Burrow is holding the ball too long, Callahan offered:"That's part of who he is to some degree where he's trying to make something happen down the field. Was that necessarily the case in all the parts of the game? No. When you're playing teams that are hell bent on keeping things in front of them you're trying to get routes to develop down the field some and it takes time and we weren't really afforded much of that at certain points of the game. Part of that was because we were in 2nd-and-10 plus far too often and that's an easy pass rush down for the defense. There are times when he is looking to make a play that he feels like he might be able to make and he made a few with his feet that were pretty impressive."
COOL CAL: Rookie long snapper Cal Adomitis' NFL debut was as solid as it gets with three-for-three on field goals and his teammates credited him with drawing a huge offsides penalty on the Bengals' first series of the second half.
Instead of a punt it was a first down and the Bengals got a field goal to cut it to 17-6.
Long snappers can't bob their heads up and down to draw flag and Adomitis didn't.
"I had my head up and was scanning the field," Adomitis said. "I think the guy thought I was snapping it, but I was just checking out what they were doing and he jumped."