Bengals captain Sam Hubbard, also known as "The Cincinnati Kid," and a son of the scarlet and gray, purposefully wore his gray Buckeye Battle Cry T-Shirt to work Monday at Paycor Stadium.
The words "We'll Fight To The End," are circled around a small drawing of Brutus, the Ohio State mascot wearing an ancient football helmet trailing the words, "For OHIO!" which is how the Buckeye Battle Cry ends.
"That's how I operate," said Hubbard when asked if he was making a shirt statement. "Our honor defend. We'll fight to the end to defend."
Hubbard says the 1-3 Bengals have plenty of bite left after Sunday's 27-3 loss to the Titans.
"The key is to just stay the course," said Hubbard, the sixth-year left end who is the Bengals' longest-tenured defensive starter. "Start with yourself, start with your position group, start out on your side of the ball and try to keep getting progressively better.
"I've got a lot of faith in these guys in this locker room. We've got a lot of good people so that gives me a lot of hope to go out there and get right back on track."
One of the big numbers that had the Bengals defense occupied Monday is Sunday's dozen missed tackles (the most in three years) counted by coordinator Lou Anarumo and he made sure his point wasn't missed.
Much of tackling is based on desire and Hubbard made it clear there's plenty of that to go around.
"I think we definitely have the want-to, no question about it," Hubbard said. "I think we've got guys in this locker room that want to be great. We want to win games. That's the reason we come work."
TOUGH TEE: Wide receiver Tee Higgins confirmed Monday he had "kind of a fracture," in one of his ribs but not to count him out of Sunday's game (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19) in Arizona. If not, he says he'll be back by the Oct. 15 Paycor Stadium game against Seattle.
There may be a flak jacket in his future.
"I'm pretty sure. It hurts, but I'm a football player at the end of the day. This game is brutal. You've got to play through things like this," Higgins said. "It's not a crazy, crazy injury to where I have to sit out multiple, multiple, multiple weeks. It all depends on the soreness and it's really up to me at the end of the day … I plan not to be out for a while. I plan to be back maybe this week, maybe next week."
And don't forget he's in his contract year.
"With the rib injury, it heals on its own. Where the team is right now, I feel like my presence on the field can really help the team," Higgins said. "The next few weeks are huge. Me just going out there, making plays that I know I can make will help the team out."
Higgins got injured when he tried to make a catch on the Bengals sideline late in the first quarter. The ball popped out when he hit the ground and when he got back up, his back felt tight. He stayed in figuring he'd get the X-Ray at halftime. Before that, he got his two catches and 19 yards on that impressive first drive the Bengals didn't match the rest of the way.
With the Titans cornerbacks playing off, one came on a nine-yard slant and the other on a 10-yard stop route, where he got a bunch of it after the catch. That's exactly how Higgins thinks the Bengals should attack the sagging zones taking away the deep ball. The Titans appeared to adjust after that drive and had their cornerbacks play press while they brought pressure up the middle.
"We just have to take what the defense gives us. We've got to execute what the coaches call obviously and then take what the defense gives us," Higgins said. "We had a great first drive. We had a great game plan going on, but after that, we don't know what happened."
Higgins was asked the obligatory Joe Burrow questions and if his strained right calf has limited the offense.
"It really hasn't changed anything if you ask me. Defenses are just pressuring the crap out of him. He's got to be able to buy some time to make a play," Higgins said. "Joe's going to be who he is regardless of anything that's going on."
BURROW GO: Monday's first question to head coach Zac Taylor was if Burrow is starting Sunday.
"Yeah. That's a strange question," Taylor said.
The next one was if he feels Burrow is healthy enough to run an effective offense and why the offense has struggled.
"I do," Taylor said. "We just have to do a better job of finding a rhythm early. There are a lot of things you can point to. We were 0h for five on third down (in the first three quarters). Our first and second down efficiency was really good to start the game. It's just when you are oh and five on third down in the first half, you're not taking any pressure off the defense. It was 3-3 halfway through the second quarter, and we have to do something offensively by converting those third downs and turning them into points to where we take pressure off the defense so the other team can't run the ball as much as they do. That's really the easiest starting point for us."
Taylor is looking at Burrow from a situational standpoint. Asked how things can change dramatically if Burrow's health doesn't, he thinks the slow starts in games has also limited him. And Taylor says he, the play-caller, has the responsibility of getting them in the end zone earlier.
"It is what it is and I think every week it's going to continue to improve that way," Taylor said. "We just have to be better on the things that we can control. On that first possession if we could have turned that into seven points maybe the start of the game is different.
"We had a great drive, great efficiency. I really felt good about the second drive, too. They got us on a third-and-seven call, fell off into the throwing window and got a sack. They zeroed us on the third drive on third down. It was a good call by them. Those three drives not being able to get more than three points is what hurt us. It put a lot of pressure on our defense."
DR. LOU's DIAGNOSIS: Under Anarumo, the Bengals have been a very sure tackling team. But Sunday was their worst tackling day since they became a power in 2021. The reason? That can happen in the NFL, Anarumo says.
"We've got to do a better job wrapping up and getting more guys to the ball, but certainly it's not a lack of want-to or effort or any of that," Anarumo said. "It's just sometimes that happens. It's just unacceptable that many. We average four or five. We've been one of the best tackling teams in the league and it's not where we're at right now. So we've got to do better."
The Bengals have also been very good since '21 containing explosive plays of 20-plus passing yards and 15-yard runs. Not in Sunday's second quarter, when they allowed seven such plays. Before he left in concussion protocol, cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt allowed passes of 38 and 44 yards.
"Nobody's feeling worse today than Cam. He knows he can't give up those explosives," Anarumo said.
If Taylor-Britt can't play Sunday, Anarumo says rookie DJ Turner is ready to go. Anarumo points out he's already played 119 snaps and held up.
Two other plays that bugged Anarumo were running back Derrick Henry's 27-yard touchdown run and his jump pass for a two-yard touchdown. They knew that one could be coming. They took a timeout, communicated it, and Henry still did it, which didn't please Anarumo. And then the longest touchdown dash by a running back against them since Nick Chubb's 70-yarder on Nov. 7, 2021.
"We missed probably three or four tackles on that play and don't contain it," Anarumo said.
If there's one play, though, that summed up maybe the entire season, it was safety Dax Hill's roughing penalty on a third-and-16 incompletion early in the third quarter. The flag allowed the Titans to keep the ball an extra seven minutes and kick a field goal.
Anarumo said the Bengals ran the same all-out seven-man blitz vs. the Titans in the 2021 playoffs and got a sack on third down. On Sunday, the free runner, safety Nick Scott, drilled Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill just in time to make him throw it into the ground, but the blitzing Hill got tied up with the helmet of blocking back Tyjae Spears and he ended up ripping the helmet off Spears.
"Dax is a guy that's not going to look to do foolish things like that. I just think he got caught up in it, and the next thing you know, the guy's helmet, he's trying to get off them," Anarumo said. "(Spears is) a shorter guy, and he got up into him a little bit and he was trying to avoid him the proper way. And the next thing you know, it's like his helmet is in his chest and he just can't finish that way on the helmet, obviously.
"Same blitz, same free runner, different effect, different outcome."