Sunday's 41-16 loss to the Browns in front of the biggest Paul Brown Stadium crowd (65,451) in six years turned on its first possession and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow took the blame.
Burrow began the game hitting his first five passes and he clicked off 10 plays and got to the Browns 3 with the aid of Browns left end Jadeveon Clowney's offside penalty that wiped out a sack.
That seemed to be the last thing to go the Bengals way because when Burrow tried to sneak a fast ball by Browns cornerback Denzel Ward for wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at the right front pylon. Ward was all over it, jumped it and went 99 the other way with the longest interception return ever against the Bengals.
"I left it inside a little bit and you do that to Denzel he's going to make you pay," Burrow said. "I didn't play very well. If I play better we're in that game and we have a chance to win that game. I just didn't play well, that's all there is to it."
Asked if it was a good decision but a bad throw, Burrow wouldn't say.
"It's tough to say. I haven't watched the film," Burrow said. "But obviously I'd like to have that one back."
In the second half, Ward again bedeviled Burrow and Chase. Burrow tried to hit Chase on a slant, Ward got in the way, the ball bounded up in the air for safety John Johnson's pick.
"Denzel made another good play. He tipped it," Burrow said. "They played 11 Lurk we call it, and there's a safety inside so I tried to kind of stop Ja'Marr with the ball and Denzel was right there and made a good play. Credit to him. I've got to do a better job taking care of the ball."
Burrow's 11 interceptions now lead the NFL.
"Today the interceptions were frustrating," Burrow said. "Over the course of the season there have been some that are my fault, some that were good plays by the defense. The ones that I can control, I need to limit. And that's that."
It sounds like Sunday was one of one and one of the other.
That biggest crowd before Sunday (65,564) didn't see a good one, either. It was the Andy Dalton season-ending broken thumb game against the Steelers in 2015.
BATTLED OF OHIO: The last time the Bengals got beat like that by the Browns, which is to say by 25 points, it was a replacement game during the 1987 players' strike and three different quarterbacks not named Boomer Esiason worked in a 34-0 loss at Riverfront Stadium.
So no wonder Joe Mixon said it "stung."
"We know the talent that we got, and sometimes you can get carried away with just everything being so big and you just forget about the little things," said Mixon after the most productive day by a Bengal with 110 scrimmage yards. "And that's kind of what it came down to today. I mean, we missed out on opportunity, and like I said, we've just got to do the little things better. We've got to play better. And like I said, we've got a lot of time to bounce back. This one stung a little bit for sure. But we'll be better."
For the first since Burrow had three interceptions in the second game of the season, the Bengals turned it over three times. For the first time this season the defense allowed a touchdown pass of at least 40 yards and a touchdown run of at least nine yards. And they were off the charts with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's 60-yard bomb to wide open wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and running back Nick Chubb's 70-yard burst through the middle.
For the first time in 2021, the Bengals lost two straight and head coach Zac Taylor knew it didn't look good but he was philosophical about back-to-back losses and next Sunday's bye. After a brief Tuesday morning workout, they won't be back until next week to begin prepping for their first game ever in Las Vegas against the Raiders on Nov. 21.
"I don't think anybody's going to watch the tape today and be pleased with what we put out there," Taylor said.
This isn't unusual for teams to lose two games in a row in this league. It feels awful — trust me — to sit here after two consecutive losses. It's important we're consistent with our approach throughout. We know we've done some good things over these first nine games of the season. We'll make the corrections that we need to make so we're focused and come out strong after the bye. There are very few teams in the history of the league that haven't had to overcome two consecutive losses, and we'll be one of those teams that overcomes."
DEFENSE RE-STOCKS: A week ago, the Bengals defense went into New York ranked fifth in scoring and tenth overall. Now in the last two games they've allowed 34 points to the Jets' next-to-last scoring offense and 41 points to a Browns offense that hadn't scored 20 points in a month.
But left end Sam Hubbard says he doesn't sense the confidence is shaken.
"We know what we got, we got a great locker room and a great team," Hubbard said. "It's about putting it all together and not getting complacent. Sometimes you regroup over the bye week and look at ourselves and see what team we can be over these last few weeks."
Browns running back Nick Chubb did shake up the Bengals defense on just 14 carries for 137 yards, the most against the Bengals this season as lack of tackling again left its imprint on this one. Last week, the Bengals also struggled in tackling when the Jets racked up nearly 300 yards after the catch.
On Sunday, it was yards after contact in the run game, primarily against Chubb. According to Pro Football Focus, he came into the game with the fourth most yards after contact in the NFL. No doubt he went past No. 3, Mixon, because it looked like old friend Larry Ogunjobi, the former Browns defensive tackle now playing for the Bengals, had him in the backfield, but Chubb shook him free and cornerback Eli Apple on the next level. That could be a lot of YCO, but he has also has some room because pulling right guard Wyatt Teller put a hellacious block on Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III.
"Chubb is an amazing back, he has really strong legs but it's no excuse," Hubbard said. "You can wrap him up, get more bodies on him. Every back we face is going to be a great runner so we've got to be better."
Wasn't it just two weeks ago the Bengals blew out the Ravens, 41-17?
"I think it just got out of hand," Hubbard said. "Turnovers, got to take care of the ball. Big plays. Mistakes. It's the NFL and a tough division. You see what happens when you let things get out of hand. Earlier in the season it happened for us, and the other team did it."
BACKING THE O-LINE: The Bengals started their fourth different right guard this season when Hakeem Adeniji got the nod in place of Jackson Carman in his first game back since injuring his pectoral muscle in the spring. Burrow got sacked five times and hit 12 times and he thought the line played well because he knows it is death against good pass rushers down 14 points, which the Bengals were most of the game.
"I thought the O-line played really well. I thought in the first half they were really controlling the line of scrimmage and then if you get behind against those guys that's when they tee off," Burrow said. "You can't put the O line in that position. We've got to jump our earlier so we can run the ball better. I thought they played great."
Taylor said two of the sacks were against the backs and he said he's not ready to make changes. Yet.
"That's usually put upon the offensive line, but it's really disappointing when those set drives back because we're not on top of details in protection," Taylor said of the backs. "We'll see how the team played. I have confidence in our offensive line, so I'm not going to make any knee-jerk reactions after this game. But we'll have a chance to revisit it after the bye."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: What a tough day for Chase, everyone's Rookie of the Year. He began last week's game with 754 yards, the most by anyone in their first seven games, That was after breaking an 82-yard touchdown in Baltimore. He's got 81 yards in the last two games and on Sunday he dropped a 23-yard touchdown pass over his shoulder and another deep one for about 20 more in which he had a step on the defender and Burrow put it pretty close in front of him. Chase also lost a fumble after a catch-and-run.
Chase wasn't the only one. Tee Higgins, Burrow's leading receiver with 76 yards, couldn't come down with two long and high contested catches (one was a touchdown at the end of the half that Ward seemed to break up at the last instant), but the Cleveland DBs also covered Higgins well.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Taylor said of Chase. "And like I said earlier, we have a lot of guys who will look back and see plays that were in their grasp that we normally make but didn't. Why those? I don't know. We needed those plays in this game, and we just didn't make them. We'll watch the tape, we'll talk to the guys about what the issues were, and we'll put them behind us and move on."
One more sack for Trey Hendrickson gives him 8.5 in his first nine Bengals games. Only Eddie Edwards in 1983 with ten and Alfred Williams with nine in 1992 had more to open a season. Carlos Dunlap also had 8.5 in the first nine games of 2015.