'On to Chicago'

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Andrew Whitworth has watched some of his teams overcome shaky post-season outings by winning the AFC North.

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson did his best Bill Belichick after Wednesday's practice and announced, "On to Chicago."

Of course, it wasn't really Belichickian. It was more Grudenesque because it ended a six-minute analysis of Monday night's abysmal first-team performance that featured three turnovers, three sacks, a pick-six, and a quarterback rating of 15.7.

"I tried to throw it in the trash," Jackson said wryly of the film. "I didn't want to watch it. It wasn't good. I was there. I saw it. I watched it for four quarters. I saw it up close and personal."

All was not lost. The second half saw the crowning of Andy Dalton's new backup quarterback when AJ McCarron directed the only Bengals' touchdown drive, an 80-yard hurry-up drill late in the game where he connected on eight of 10 passes.

"I liked it,' said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese of McCarron's decision-making. "I like the way he stayed true to it.  I liked the way he saw the field. The way he went through his progressions. It was a good start. A really good start."

But asking players and coaches what exactly a bad pre-season performance means isn't so clear-cut. It's a little like asking people about Donald Trump's hair. Everyone has a different answer.

Running back Jeremy Hill thought it was a well needed wake-up call. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has seen some very good Bengals' play-off teams struggle in the preseason, sees another one coping with an ugly outing. Jackson spent a two-and-a-half-hour practice on Wednesday fixing it

"I don't think it's a problem. I would tell you it's a problem in the regular season. But we're not in the regular season," Jackson said. "Nobody is going to put anything on the ledgers.  We've addressed it. Marvin (Lewis) has addressed it. The coaches addressed it. The players addressed it. We don't want to put that stuff on video. That's not our expectation. We've moved on. Hello Chicago."

But that doesn't mean Jackson is blowing off what happened in Tampa.

"I'm not one to sit and act like nothing is wrong because its preseason. I don't look at it that way," Jackson said. "These things bleed over into your season and we're not going to have it.  The leaders of the offensive unit understand it. They've taken it upon themselves to get things fixed and that's what they're doing."

One of those leaders, Whitworth, is in his 10th preseason and has just about seen it all.

When he was a rookie in 2006, he saw Carson Palmer dismantle the Packers, 48-17, in his comeback game from ACL surgery. But both teams missed the playoffs and went 8-8. The 2009 team that swept the AFC North didn't get a point from its first offense in the first two games. The 2010 team won three games in the preseason and then four the rest of the way. The 2011 team that made the playoffs got outscored 91-47 in the preseason. The 2013 AFC North champs got rounded up in Dallas when they committed four turnovers and seven penalties.

"I've never been one to harp too much on the preseason," Whitworth said. "I know any time you go out to compete you want to win. It's hard to have that mentality, too, because I don't even play the whole game. As a team you want to go win, but mainly you just want to go out and get better and improve on things and get ready for the regular season. Honestly, I don't put a lot into the results of the preseason, but the execution, we still want to be better."

The execution, particularly in pass protection, was poor. Then again, there was no full-blown game plan. Jackson only called on his coveted running game eight times and his bell cow, Jeremy Hill, ran it just four times when the first group was in there.

"The game is run somewhat like a practice," Whitworth said. "We're trying to get throws in that we want to get in. We're working on things we want to work on. Every week (in the regular season) we have a game plan and what's best against that team. We're not doing that yet."

This is where Jackson comes in. Even if there is no game plan, it can't look like that. And Whitworth agrees.

"At the end of the day, that's not who we want to be. That's not how we go about it, and I think our guys know that," Jackson said. "So we're going to turn the page, and we came out here today and went to work. The guys had a great practice. I think they're focused. I think they understand what we need to accomplish. We're 18 days away from the opener and I think we all recognize that. Not that we weren't trying on Monday night. That's not it at all. I think guys tried. We just didn't get it done. We don't want to have days like that and I don't expect to have days like that, so on we go."

Jackson obviously hammered his point home to his bell cow. Hill emphasized cutting down on his fumbles this offseason after suffering five as a rookie and losing two of them. On his sixth carry of the year Monday, he lost it when it looked like cornerback Mike Jenkins got his helmet on it. He thought he carried it correctly ("high and tight") and isn't sure how he lost it, but he also knows it can't happen. Just like what happened to his team.

 "The mindset needs to be changed. I think we were kind of complacent out there," Hill said. "After playing the way we did against the Giants, I think we just thought it would happen and you can't do that. You have to go out there with the same intensity and the same respect you have for every opponent. We have to continue to grind.

"It's just so not like us. I'm glad it happened. It kind of put it in perspective. We were getting praise, especially after the Giants game. It put it in perspective that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to grind. That was definitely good for us."

Jackson set a very defiant tone, leaving with an image that Belichick, and maybe not even Hemingway, could touch.

"They kicked our butts up over our shoulders," Jackson said. "I get it. I've had my butt kicked before. I've also come back and these players have also come back. We'll get back."

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