This was originally published in The Athletic.
Let’s get two things out of the way:
First, the fault for any lost game never lies with one player or thing. The Bengals lost to the Panthers not because of any one individual person or moment, but because the defense couldn’t tackle Christian McCaffrey when Carolina’s offense was at its simplest, and was a step behind whenever it did anything bordering on exotic. They lost because their team’s supposed strength – the defensive line – was anything but, because they were without their top two linebackers, and because the Panthers were able to convert some rather avoidable Bengals turnovers into points.
Secondly, the walls aren’t closing in on the season. Yes, it’d be great if we didn’t have to spend the aftermath of the year’s first loss wondering if the Bengals will have to try to outgun the Falcons next week without their best wideout and best running back. And sure, given how much this game felt like it was there for the taking, you can’t help but wonder how often we’ll revisit its what-ifs as the playoff and division races start to form.
But the fact that the Bengals were even in the game after playing most of it without A.J. Green and all of it without Joe Mixon and others might speak to how much depth the Bengals have developed, and how good they really might be.
And come on, no one had them starting 3-0.
Now that those two things are out of the way, let’s move on to John Ross.
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.