The Bengals face another AFC North Division rival in their home opener when they take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Paycor Stadium. Cincinnati is looking to bounce back from a 24-3 defeat at Cleveland in Week 1.
The Bengals' offense could never find its footing in wet and rainy conditions that persisted throughout the regular-season opener. Going against a formidable Browns pass rush, Cincinnati recorded just 142 yards of net offense, including 67 net passing yards. Though QB Joe Burrow — who wore a glove on his right throwing hand during parts of the game due to the ball becoming increasingly slippery — was held to 14 completions and a 52.2 passer rating, the Pro Bowler affirmed that his team's performance was not indicative of what is to come this season.
"Nobody is panicking in here," said Burrow after the game. "Week 1 doesn't define anybody's season. Obviously, (we were) not very good out there. Anybody that watched saw that. But we've been in this spot before, we've come back stronger and had a great year, so that's what we're going to do."
Cincinnati last season lost its opening two contests to fall into an early 0-2 hole, but proceeded to win 12 of its final 14 regular-season games — including eight in a row — to clinch a second consecutive AFC North title. And though several Bengals have echoed an urgency to make improvements heading into Week 2, the defensive showing offered positive takeaways provided by both veteran contributors and recent additions.
Notably, fifth-year LB Germaine Pratt totaled 11 tackles, including a seven-yard sack, and forced a fumble in the opening quarter that was recovered by seventh-year CB Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie played 43 defensive snaps in his first game since sustaining a season-ending knee injury last Halloween on the same Cleveland field. Tying Pratt for the team lead in tackles was S Nick Scott, a free agent acquisition who made his Bengals debut. Scott's partner at the safety position, second-year pro Dax Hill, picked off Browns QB Deshaun Watson and returned it 20 yards in the third quarter for his first career INT.
"I thought the defense as a whole certainly gave us enough," head coach Zac Taylor said. "We didn't do anything to take the pressure off of them. They really held up in some bad field position situations. They continued to make stop after stop, gave up three points there for a long time and then obviously had the one (Browns TD) right before the half. But they gave us what we needed."
The Bengals this week return to the friendly confines of Paycor Stadium, where they have won seven straight contests and nine of their last 10 dating back to Week 16 of the 2021 season. Cincinnati's most dominant victories of the 2022 season came at home, including a 35-17 win over Atlanta in Week 7 and a 42-21 triumph over Carolina in Week 9 — both featured over 450 offensive net yards. The Bengals also defended their home turf against eventual postseason qualifiers in Miami and Kansas City. Each game at Paycor Stadium last year was played in front of an attendance figure of over 65,000. The team's performances at home in recent history, amplified by its passionate fan base, supply the Bengals with an edge that Taylor is confident they will capitalize on against Baltimore.
"One thing I'll continue to echo this week is our home field is such an advantage," Taylor said. "Especially early in a season with new players on a team and new communication, that's what we're looking forward to is playing in front of our home crowd and getting those advantages with the noise. The way that our fans always turn up and support us that way, that's going to be a great advantage that we can have this Sunday at 1."
Cincinnati's last two games at Paycor Stadium came against Baltimore in January, beginning with a Bengals win in Week 18 that set up a rematch at the venue the following week in the Wild Card Playoff. The postseason showdown turned into a back-and-forth affair that carried into the fourth quarter, before DE Sam Hubbard cemented his name in Bengals history with an iconic 98-yard fumble return for a TD that proved to be the game-winning score.
The Bengals have held the upper hand as of late in the all-time series against the Ravens, taking four of the last five matchups. Baltimore is coming off a 25-9 home win over Houston in Week 1.