NASHVILLE, Tenn. _ After Sunday's 27-3 loss to the Titans here at Nissan Stadium, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor zeroed in on third down on both sides of the ball.
The Bengals didn't convert one until 8:46 left in the game while the Titans cashed eight of 13, two in devastating fashion on penalties. Nose tackle DJ Reader's third-down red zone sack with 23 seconds left in the first half was negated by linebacker Germaine Pratt's hold and led to a touchdown and a 24-3 halftime deficit of 24-3 instead of 20-3. When the Titans got the ball to start the second half, the Bengals had them off the field on a third-and-16 incompletion until safety Dax Hill was called for unnecessary roughness on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee kept the ball for six more minutes and led, 27-3, with 4:38 left in the third quarter by the time the Bengals got the ball for the first time in the second half.
"In the first half if the offense could have executed on one or two of those third downs, keep our defense off the field and get into a rhythm," Taylor said. "And on defense, that's tough to make a stop and the flags come out. That can be a defeating moment, but I don't think our guys acted that way."
_Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had his most accurate passing day of the season at 67 percent (20 of 30), but, like he said, "We never got anything going." He passed for 165 yards, the third lowest of his career against a Tennessee defense ranked 28th against the pass. Asked if he's "fighting his instincts," as he deals with his strained right calf, Burrow refused to point to the injury.
"It's hard to say. I'm playing the way I'm playing," Burrow said. "We have to get better in practice. We have to continue to stack days. Get better every day."
_The offense looked its best on the first series as Burrow briskly took them 72 yards on 11 plays for a field goal when the drive stalled at the 3. With the Titans doing what everybody is doing with sagging deep zones, Burrow took what he got and hit his first four passes for 46 yards, two of them screens to Chase for 26 yards while running back Joe Mixon ripped off 26 yards on four carries.
On third down Burrow called time before handing off to Mixon for three yards and then Evan McPherson kicked a 21-yard field goal.
"We got something that I wasn't quite expecting. We called a timeout," Burrow said. "I came back and we had a light box, so we ran. I thought we could punch it in."
Burrow said there was no discussion of him coming out.
"I always feel like we're in it. It was a three-score game midway through the third," Burrow said. "We were still in it a quarter of the way through the fourth quarter."
_This Bengals defense has made its bones the previous two seasons stopping the best running teams in the league, such as the Titans and running back Derrick 'King' Henry. In his two previous games against the Bengals, Henry could only manage 100 yards. Henry had 122 Sunday in a season the Browns' Nick Chubb had 106 in the opener and Baltimore rushed for 178 yards. In last season's 11 regular-season and playoff games after the bye week, the Bengals didn't allow a 100-yard rusher.
But on Sunday, Henry forced two missed tackles on his 29-yard touchdown run and scatback Tyjae Spears forced another one in the backfield when he basically ran a reverse when he picked up his fumble and went for 22 yards.
(According to Jay Morrison of Pro Football Network, it's the longest TD by a running back against the Bengals since Chubb's 70-yarder on Nov. 7, 2021.)
Nose tackle DJ Reader has been in the middle of all that.
"We just missed tackles. We didn't fit the gaps right and we missed tackles," Reader said. " Yes, it is frustrating and it is surprising, but we've got to do better. Nobody comes in any week thinking we're going to lose, so when we lose it is a surprise. We have to do better. We have to fit. We can't miss tackles. If we don't miss tackles no matter what else goes on that game we feel better about ourselves."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: According to NFL media, wide receiver Tee Higgins suffered a fractured rib, missed the second half, and left with two catches for 19 yards. A very tough day for the guy Taylor made a captain Sunday (along with Burrow) as the Oak Ridge product returned to the building where he received the football Mr. Tennessee as a high school junior and senior …
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