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The sky is not falling

Dalton-Bengals-Patriots
Yes, I saw it, too.

On Sunday night, with the eyes on the nation on the Cincinnati Bengals taking on the New England Patriots, the team took the worst beating it has endured since a 31-point shellacking in the 2013 opener on, you guessed it, national TV (Monday Night Football).

Cris Collinsworth hit the nail on the head late in the game saying that a road contest at New England is probably a loss when you look at the schedule ahead of the season. That became all the more likely after the Patriots were dismantled last Monday Night in Kansas City and heard the media hype this game up as the key to saving their season all week long.

The result? A 43-17 final score that, while it wasn’t predictable, didn’t come as a surprise.

What did come as a surprise was how bad the Bengals looked early on. New England struck first with a touchdown on its opening drive. Andy Dalton missed throws on Cincinnati’s first couple possessions and once he settled down, Mohamed Sanu let him down with a drop, then Jermaine Gresham derped away an easy touchdown and A.J. Green fumbled to give up yet another Patriots score before the half.

Throw in a dreadful game from Brandon Tate, who insisted on returning every kick to his own 15 and had a fumble returned for a touchdown, a dropped INT by Emmanuel Lamur, as well as a defense that was kept off balance all night by the Patriots’ attack and this game was ugly through and through.

So what did we learn from all of the ugliness? Not a lot. While I believe the Bengals win more often than not if these teams played a series of games in a vacuum, this wasn’t a night, situation or location where Cincinnati was likely to thrive. I guess we got get confirmation of what many suspected — this team as a whole still isn’t ready for prime time. The Bengals broke down in every phase, at every level.

Will that change by the time the playoffs come around? We can only hope, as this is going to be the greatest threat to a group that is still arguably the best in the AFC.

Here’s the good news, though. Cincinnati, which should never have been ranked as the league’s best team by national publications returns to the underdog status where it oft thrives. They’ve lost five road games by double-digits in the Andy Dalton era and have thrice rebounded with victories the very next week. The most recent was a 30-20 Sunday Night loss vs. Pittsburgh last season. They came back with 28- and 17-point triumphs to close the 2013 regular season.

This time ’round, the Bengals have three more manageable — very difficult, but manageable — games at home vs. the Panthers, in Indianapolis and at home against Baltimore in the next three weeks.

After a home tilt with the Jaguars, the bright lights return to Cincinnati for a Thursday night contest with the Browns. The coming stretch will tell us a lot more about this team than Sunday Night’s contest did. If the team is .500 and sputtering at home on national TV on Nov. 6, then it will be time to hit the panic button.

For now, we’re on to Cincinnati.

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