(Photo: Getty Images)
The Cincinnati Bengals looked like a competent, well-managed, reasonably operational football team yesterday.
The offense was by no means super explosive, but without two key parts, there was at least a concerted effort to get the ball to the team's best available playmakers. AJ Green and Joe Mixon has 21 touches between them, and Green ended up with exactly half of Andy Dalton's passing targets.
Dalton, for his part, played a fine game. He wasn't perfect, by any stretch. He took sacks that were avoidable and missed one or two throws that he need to make, but playing against arguably the best quarterback in the game, Dalton did more than hold his own, and gave his team a chance to win.
They did things on defense too. William Jackson's pick-six of Aaron Rodgers was its biggest play, but the D applied pressure on Rodgers all afternoon, sacking Rodgers six times as Karl Lawson often looked like the best player on either team, consistently abusing whomever the Packers sent to block him.
The Bengals were good yesterday - again, not great - but even with a three points left on the field by Randy Bullock (Jake Elliott's game-winning 61-yarder for Philly has not gone unnoticed) and even with a defense that looked helpless against Rodgers' heroics at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime, it's hard to be that upset at what the Bengals did yesterday.
I'm more mad at what they did in the first two games.
The problem isn't necessarily that the Bengals lost in Green Bay, it's that winning in Green Bay took on added importance because of the way the Bengals dicked around against Baltimore (imagine flying across the pond to watch your team get torched by Blake Bortles to the tune of 44-7) and Houston. Their near-comical ineptitude on offense in games one and two shrunk their margin for error and had them playing a game that - even if they played well - was going to be very, very difficult to win.
You'd like to be able to take the things the Bengals did yesterday and start feeling good about what's ahead. That offense we saw yesterday, and that quarterback who stood toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers for most of the afternoon, are good enough to win the games the Bengals have in front of them. There's more to like than not like about the defense. And whatever messages that were sent about urgency seem to have been heard.
It's hard to feel any bit of good about a team that'll go the first month without winning, even if the Steelers - who continue a pattern of losing to inferior opponents - and Ravens, did leave the AFC North door slightly ajar yesterday. The margin for error for the Bengals is non-existent, both in close road games against good teams led by Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, and in a season where the wins now have to start coming quick, and consecutively.
The team that took the field at Lambeau Field yesterday looked drastically different than the one that floundered around for two games at Paul Brown Stadium. There's a lot to like about that.
The result they achieved was painfully familiar. There's nothing to like about being 0-3.
The problem isn't that the Bengals lost yesterday's game. It's that yesterday's game was one they had to win.