After completing all three passes 10 days ago, Andy Dalton got sacked three times Monday night.
TAMPA - After Monday night's 25-11 loss to the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the Bengals' No. 1 offense was left to ponder the difference of 10 days.
Ten days ago in their pre-season opener against the Giants, quarterback Andy Dalton led a barbecue-crisp six-play drive for a touchdown in which they never saw third down and Dalton hit all three of his passes.
But in a six-play sequence Monday night they committed three turnovers and one of them was the dreaded pick-six off another miscue with wide receiver A.J. Green the target. They went 1-for-6 on third down and Dalton got sacked three times in 26 head-scratching snaps that took up the entire first half.
"Different team, different guys," said Dalton of the difference. "Everything went how we wanted it to go last week. That's the game of football. They get paid, too. We have to do a better job. We'll learn from the mistakes. We're disappointed with what we did tonight."
Green called it, "The reality of pro sports. You're going to have off nights."
Reality is also people talking about the Green-Dalton connection. Monday night's number is 27. That's how many passes they've tried that have been intercepted, the most of any QB-receiver combo since 2011. On Monday, Green took the blame for the pick-six, where Dalton's sideline pass went between his hands and where cornerback Alterraun Verner was beaten so badly that he was standing five yards back. That's where Green tipped it to him to begin his 24-yard touchdown return to make it 14-0 just 3:33 into the second quarter.
On the previous play, Green ran the same route, made the catch, and got 10 yards. He burned Verner again, but missed it.
"It started with me," Green said of Tampa's run. "I just have to make that play. I shouldn't have pulled my head out like that. It's preseason. We just have to get better."
Three plays later it was Dalton's turn when he tried to drop a pass in between Tampa's two-deep zone to tight end Tyler Eifert and he overthrew him. Safety Bradley McDougald was sitting right there at midfield and returned it 38 yards to set up another touchdown.
"I just left it a little high for Tyler," Dalton said. "I have to bring it down, check it down. I'm trying to make a play for a first down and get something going. Their linebacker made a good play dropping back underneath. He made me throw it high and the safeties were obviously in positon."
Then two plays later running back Jeremy Hill fumbled at his own 31 when cornerback Mike Jenkins got his helmet on the ball at the end of an 11-yard run, the longest of his four carries for 16 yards.
The only thing you could say is no one got hurt. The most serious injury appeared to be linebacker Emmanuel Lamur's hamstring injury. Safety George Iloka (knee) indicated he was OK. And other than that, no one else appeared to leave the game.
"I think it was a case of where we didn't come out with enough focus," said Iloka, who saw his first defense miss a slew of tackles on running back Doug Martin's 30-yard run on the opening touchdown drive. "We didn't have enough consistency from play to play."
But at least the first defense made some stops and got good pressure against Tampa's re-built offensive line. Left end Carlos Dunlap had a sack negated because of a face-mask penalty and defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry combined for a sack and didn't let quarterback Jameis Winston escape when he stumbled back from center.
But the Bengals first offensive line struggled keeping the Bucs off Dalton. He got sacked three times and hit three others as Tampa used its array of stunts to apparently confuse the pass protection. Stunts led to two of the sacks and on the other one tackle Gerald McCoy appeared to get the edge on right guard Kevin Zeitler to to produce a half sack by McCoy and right end George Johnson.
Right tackle Eric Winston, who was called for a hold on a one-yard Dalton scramble, got the start in place of Andre Smith, out with an unknown ailment. But Winston has been playing in place of Smith in practice and he said it was no surprise the Bucs were stunting.
"That's (head coach) Lovie Smith's M.O.," Winston said. "You'll get a lot of moving guys. You've got to be able to handle that. The thing is you know when they do that, they might hit a play or two. But you have to hit your plays on them and that's the thing. You know they're going to get you for a tackle for a loss here and there. But you have to hit a 15- or 20-yarder on them and we didn't do it."
Winston said facing the Bucs' style of defense this early in the season had nothing to do with the sacks.
"McCoy is tough to play because he's good. So are the other guys. (Tackle Tony) McDaniel, the guy they got from Seattle is no slouch. He's a good player. (Tackle) Henry Melton has been a good player in this league for a long time. It's a matter of executing a little better."
Forget 10 days ago. The Bengals didn't have Andre Smith back when they beat the Bucs on Nov. 30, 14-13, because he was hurt. Green beat Verner's secondary for the winning touchdown pass, and Hill held on to a 12-yard run that helped kill the clock.
The Bengals decided they needed help at right tackle that day and called Winston on Monday. His advice on this Monday night would stand for the rest of the offense.
"Be hard on yourself. That's the biggest thing," Winston said. "It's the preseason. It's easy to whisk away the problems and not address them. The big thing is if there are problems, just address them and fix them and let's move on."