KANSAS CITY - After Sunday night's 45-10 run-after-catch loss at the hands of the Chiefs, the Bengals found themselves in a very weird spot as they departed Arrowhead Stadium in the dead of an even deader night.
At 4-3 they're just percentage points behind the 3-2-1 Steelers in what is rapidly becoming the 9-7 AFC North. And yet they could take no comfort in any parts of their game on a night they allowed the most points in the eight seasons of the Green-Dalton Era during a disheveled display that extended their Sunday night losing streak to nine.
The offense could generate just 239 yards and one touchdown against the NFL's last-ranked defense and if anyone is counting, that's just 67 points in the 14 quarters since tight end Tyler Eifert went down for the year. They had 117 points in the first 14 quarters of the season with him.
After a slew of missed tackles and soft coverages against the Chiefs' blistering array of weapons, the Bengals are rapidly on pace to allow the most yards in their history. That 551 spot Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes plastered on them with his silky smooth 72-percent passing was the most this generation of defenders has allowed and the most since Derek Anderson put up 554 in the Browns' 51-45 win in 2007 and the 595 Drew Brees generated in the 2006 Saints' loss.
And the special teams reverted to its gaffe-a-game self in 2018 in what turned out to be the key part of the game. A missed field goal gave the Bengals the ball at their 43 and down a mere 7-0 as the first quarter became the second quarter. But they couldn't budge it and when a miscommunication resulted in a fumbled punt, the Chiefs went up 14-0 in three plays.
"It's bad. It's a bad look for the whole team to see this happen," said middle linebacker Preston Brown. "It's such a big score difference. You never want to go out there and get blown out on a Sunday night, [especially] when it's been something we've been waiting to show the whole league what we can do. And now, to put up a goose egg like that, it's not a good look. But, we've got to go learn from it and find ways to get better."
And while it's the kind of game that can spawn finger pointing and more completions under the bus than on the field, the team elders moved to defuse it.
"I think we'll be alright," said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who admitted the Chiefs had some surprises. "Hell yeah. You can see the score and they obviously did some things that surprised us.
"As long as we don't fall apart, I don't care … I still think we're in a good spot … There's no panic … Let's go back Monday, make the corrections and keep playing."
The defense is a mystery. League-wide it's seen as one of the more talented groups, but they're now allowing 60 percent of third downs to become first downs and just haven't been able to stop anybody for a month. They appear not to have adjusted yet to first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's scheme, although veteran left end Carlos Dunlap said the scheme isn't a problem.
"There's not an issue with the defense. There's not an issue with the offense," said Dunlap, who had one of the two sacks and as if to sum up the night he got flagged for doing it. "We just got out-executed. They've got playmakers and they made more plays than we did. When you let them make plays like that in a hostile environment, you can't let that happen."
Dunlap indicated there was an adjustment period early in the game when WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict wore the defense's communications helmet for the first time this season, but he also said the Chiefs trying to confuse foes early with different motions and sets is par for the course. Brown ended up wearing the helmet when Burfict limped to the locker room with a left hip injury in the third quarter.
Brown, in his first year with the Bengals after leading the league in tackles last season for the Bills, says, "It doesn't have anything to do with the coaches. It's us.
"I hate missed tackles," Brown said. "I hate seeing us miss tackles. They want it more than we did. It's all discipline. You've got to want to tackle these guys. They were not going down. They were spinning off guys. We have to find a way. Whether we hold them up and wait for help and wait for the whistle, we have to find something."
It was a tough night for Burfict. With news breaking that the Bengals are standing behind him after he got fined another $112,000 for two hits in Iast week's game against Pittsburgh, he missed a bunch of tackles, one on one of running back Kareem Hunt's three touchdowns, this one on a 15-yard catch-and-run.
But Burfict was far from the lone culprit in what was unquestionably the worst tackling display of the Marvin Lewis Era. Take your pick and everyone seemed to have multiple misses. Even sure tackling rookie safety Jessie Bates, who had a bloopers moment when Hunt hurdled the 6-2 Bates while standing on the way to a 21-yard run that Kirkpatrick had him pinned for a loss before he wriggled away.
"I think we did a really good job of closing the middle and not allowing the deep throws," Bates said. "But, we didn't tackle. They checked everything down and we didn't tackle very well. And, it showed tonight … They showed everything that we watched on film. We just didn't execute right."
That's what the Bengals wanted Mahomes to do, Check it down. He only completed one long ball, the 50-yarder to wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Everything else was YAC. Yards after catch. YAC-Etty YAC. The night was summed up when slot corner Tony McRae couldn't haul down tight end Travis Kelce after a little screen-like toss, and Kelce got most of his 43 yards after the miss.
But the Bengals did salute the Chiefs' devastating team speed. They made a pretty speedy Bengals team look quite pedestrian in the speed department and the Bengals admitted that's hard to simulate in practice.
(Tyreek Hill) is super-fast. He was catching the ball and then running backwards and then running forwards. It's like playing punt," Brown said of the Pro Bowl receiver who had seven catches for 68 yards. You don't usually see that on a defense. It's tough to play a guy like that because he's so fast. You just got to gang tackle him, everybody's got to run to the ball. And, we need to do a better job of tackling."
Kirkpatrick: "You could see it on film. You know its fast. They are definitely fast. They like to go misdirection, sideline to sideline. I just thought it was something we could learn from. We still got an opportunity to go into the bye week hopefully being 5-3. I'm going to keep my head up. I'm just going to keep preparing the way I've been doing and try to get some guys healthy."
And that basically ended up being the theme of the night. It was awful, but they're still in it and leaders like Green knows he has to help remind them they're still in it.
"We got to be together. We win together, we lose together. We're a team. We're a family," Green said. "We know this NFL season is a long grind, up and down, a roller coaster. For my part, I'm going to keep leading by example, it's back to the drawing board. No slacking off on my play. We're just going to watch the film and get better, lead by example, and get back to work on Wednesday."