CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Welcome to the Bengals Fifth Quarter where I provide my analysis of Sunday's 51-14 Bengals loss to the the New Orleans Saints before a crowd announced at 45,134 in Paul Brown Stadium (here is a link to the story with game details filed as soon as the game concluded that also includes video/tweet highlights):
Offense: QB Jeff Driskel
The Skinny: It's pretty slim pickings when the backup quarterback who played only a handful of snaps gets the game ball.
Driskel led the Bengals on a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter and capped it with a 27-yard touchdown run on a read-option. He also completed 2 of 3 passes for 35 yards on the drive.
"It's tough to get in in that situation at the end of the game, but at the end of day we're still competing out there and it's still football out there so I just wanted to do what I could to get a drive going and end the game on a more positive note on offense," said Driskel.
He also played one snap in the first quarter when he was inserted into the game at quarterback with the Bengals having it 1st-and-10 from the Saints 21, and starting quarterback Andy Dalton lined up as a wide receiver. Driskel ran another read-option play and raced eight yards around right end after pulling the ball away from the running back. The Bengals scored a touchdown two plays later.
"We put that play in this week just to give the defense another look," said Driskel. "We haven't done it this year. They obviously hadn't prepared for it and we had a nice gain there running the ball in the red zone, which is hard to do. It was fun to be in the game plan."
His 27-yard touchdown run came on the exact same play going left and raced into the end zone untouched for his first career regular-season touchdown.
"They brought a blitz off the edge and there was nobody home after I pulled it," said Driskel. "It was a nice play and it was good to get my first touchdown there."
The Skinny: It's hard to reward anyone a game ball after that performance in which the Saints scored touchdowns on each of their first five possessions and scored points on each of the first nine possessions. The only possession New Orleans didn't score came on the final one of the day in which it ran out the clock.
Safety Jessie Bates had a team-high 11 tackles and safety Shawn Williams had 10 and one of only two quarterback hits.
It says how bad things were when safeties had that many tackles.
COACHING GRADE: F
The Skinny: Coming off a bye and this is how the team played?
This team looked like it wanted to be anywhere else other than playing a team as good as the Saints.
The defense was its usual putrid self allowing over 500 yards for the third straight game and it was bad against both the pass (Drew Brees was 22 of 25 for 265 yards) and the run (244 yards allowed on 47 carries).
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin used three safeties along with two cornerbacks and two linebackers as a base look in an attempt to cover Saints running back Alvin Kamara and still have a chance to stop the run, but that didn't work.
Except for the drive at the end of the game, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offense dried up after driving 75 yards and accruing five first downs the first time they had the ball. Over the next seven drives the offense had only 139 yards and six first downs combined.
- It was the kind of defensive performance that could get Austin fired
The Skinny: If the Bengals were going to fire first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin it would have been during the bye week, but perhaps they figured to give him the extra week to find a way to right the ship. Now that he didn't it's certainly in play for a change to be made.
Marvin Lewis didn't deny the possibility of it when asked directly after the game if he would consider coaching changes.
"I'm not going to talk about any of that stuff," said Lewis.
Several Bengals defensive players used the term "embarrassing" for the performance and were grasping for answers as to how the defense can get fixed.
"We have to find a way to tackle better and be in the right spots, because it seems like every week we can't keep doing that," said middle linebacker Preston Brown. "We go out there and see the formations and we know what they're doing. They were doing the exact same thing we saw on film it's just that we didn't tackle them so we all have to get better on the defensive side. We can't continue to do this."
Said Williams: "It’s the same thing that we’ve been doing all along. There’s a lot of things we’re just not doing well enough. We’re not tackling well enough. We’re not breaking up passes, we’re not getting them behind the chains. It’s always second-and-five, or second-and-four. How do you expect to let your (defensive) ends rush when they’re in second-and-two, or third-and-one?"
In fairness Austin is coaching without two starting linebackers (Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil) and No. 1 nickel cornerback Darqueze Dennard, but it wasn't like the defense was great even with them. It was perhaps a little better, but still not very good.
"You become who you are in November," said veteran linebacker Vinny Rey. "Once Thanksgiving comes, that’s who you are — and Thanksgiving is coming. We’re going to find out who we are. Thankfully, we’ve got guys like Nick Vigil coming back, Vontaze Burfict coming back, Darqueze Dennard. We’ve got a lot of these guys coming back that are going to help us. The rest of us, (though), we’re still going to be in the jerseys. We’ve got to go out and make plays, get off blocks, hit guys and make plays, and not let our guy make the catch. Just fight, fight, fight. There’s no cavalry coming, as some people say. They’re not coming. Yeah, we’ve got some guys coming back like Vontaze, but hey, we’re the same guys. We’re going to have to go out there and make plays."
- The ship could get righted in the next three weeks
The Skinny: The ugliness of Sunday's loss, and basically the way the Bengals played over the last four games, makes it hard to believe that things will get turned back around, but they can thanks to the upcoming schedule.
The Bengals went 1-3 over the last four games, but the three losses came against arguably the two best teams in the AFC (Kansas City and Pittsburgh) and arguably the best team in the entire NFL (New Orleans).
Over the next three games the Bengals face three sub-.500 teams: at Baltimore (4-5), Cleveland (3-6-1) at home and Denver (3-6) at home.
"As I told them, you can’t lose sight of where we are," said Lewis. "This hurts everybody, but we have to get better. We have to coach better, play better, and the focus has to come down to preparing better and getting ready for the next game. Obviously your confidence gets shaken. I just addressed that with them. They have to focus and get determined. It’s their job to do it right."
Several players said it's simply time to look in the mirror and figure out what they can do to make things better.
"What are you not doing right? How are you hurting the team? How are you contributing to us being a losing team today?’ Don’t blame anybody else — blame yourself, because you’re one of the reasons we lost," said Rey. "Myself included."
Said Brown: "I have to look at myself and find a way to help this team, because I need to play a lot better if we're going to be better on defense."
Said linebacker Jordan Evans: "We need to be our hardest self-critic and don’t worry about the “buts” or point fingers. Just focus on myself and what I can do personally better and collectively if we do that we will be alright."
Veteran defensive end Michael Johnson said he can reflect on the 2012 season when the Bengals lost to Denver coming out of the bye to fall to 3-5, but won seven of their last seven games to earn a playoff berth.
"All I have to draw from is history," said Johnson. "We started 3-5 (in 2012) and we came out of the bye and we lost to Denver at home similar to this, but it wasn’t as bad as this. Who knows maybe we look back at this as a turning point. Hopefully we can turn it into that where we’re playing better. We all have to look at ourselves and just do better and do our jobs better. There’s no magic or this is going or that is going. We all need to do our jobs better."
If the playoffs started after this week's games the Bengals would be the second wild-card team and the No. 6 seed.So they can solidify their hold on a playoff spot over the next few weeks.
"That’s the funny part about it. It feels like things have been going haywire, but we’re going to Baltimore — a team that we handled at our house, and a team that (the Bengals beat in the season finale) last year," said Rey. "Right when it feels like the sky is falling, you go to Baltimore and take care of business, and you’re right in the middle of the fight (again). Coaches are going to be on our tails tomorrow, and rightly so. Every man needs to point (the finger at) themselves, because each person had stock in this loss. Everyone had a share in it."
- Lengel's false start felt like game over
The Skinny: The loss certainly can't be pinned on backup tight end Matt Lengel's false start penalty on a 4th-and-1 play early in the second quarter, but one press box wag quipped, "game over," at the time it occurred and they were right.
After both teams traded touchdowns on their first drive of the game and New Orleans scored a touchdown on its second drive to go up 14-7, the Bengals drove right back and were faced with a 4th-and-1 from the Saints 40 with just under 11 minutes left in the first half. Lewis opted to leave the offense on the field to apparently try and convert for the first down, but Lengel was called for a false start that cost the Bengals five yards and Lewis decided to punt.
New Orleans then drove 90 yards for another touchdown to go up 21-7 and things snowballed from there.
If the Bengals convert the fourth down and go on to score a touchdown to tie the score at 14-14 then perhaps they have enough confidence to hang around a little longer and they would have kept Brees and company off the field a bit longer, too.
"That’s tough. You can’t have that happen," Dalton said of the penalty. "I think everybody understands that. We convert there, it could be a different game, but that’s just one play that we’ll go back and look at and see that we have to have it fixed."
The Bengals offense was stuck in neutral the rest of the game.
"That was definitely the turning point of us (staying) in the game, in my opinion," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd. "I mean, we still had other opportunities to score and cut the lead down and at least give us a shot in the second half, but I really can’t say much about that."
THREE STATS/NUMBERS OF NOTE
2,117: The number of yards the Bengals allowed in the last four games combined.
2,979: The number of yards the Bengals allowed in the last six games combined, which is more than the team allowed in the entire 1982 season. That season was cut short to nine games due to a players' strike, but still ...
77.7: Brees' completion percentage after Sunday's game. He set the single-season completion percentage record last year at 72.0 percent. Of his three incompletions on Sunday, one was thrown out of bounds on purpose when he was forced to scramble, another pass was dropped by Taysom Hill.
THREE QUOTES OF NOTE
- Bengals cornerback William Jackson III on Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas' diving seven-yard touchdown touchdown reception in the first quarter that appeared questionable as to whether or not he gained control of it: "They threw a play in the end zone, which they dropped, but he’s Drew Brees, so they gave it to him."
- Brees on whether or not his team avoided a "trap" game after playing three tough games in a row leading up to the Bengals game and with the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles next on the schedule: "There are no trap games against a 5-3 opponent on the road. We felt like they’re a talented team, and we wanted to make sure we had our best performance. We value each win; they equal the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s AFC or NFC, a win is a win. This one is just as valuable as any other win."
- Saints running back Alvin Kamara when asked to describe the Saints offense right now: "Savage."
- Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick left the game late in the first half and didn't return after it was deemed he suffered a concussion.
- The 33 first downs by the Saints were one shy of tying for the most the Bengals ever allowed in a game. New Orleans had 21 first downs in the first half.
- The 35 points the Saints scored in the first half tied for the most the Bengals ever allowed in the first half of a game in franchise history.
- The 37-point margin of defeat ties for the biggest in Bengals franchise history.
- Rookie Billy Price started at center and Trey Hopkins moved into Alex Redmond's starting spot at right guard. It was the first time Price had played since the first quarter of the Sept. 13 game against Baltimore when he suffered a foot injury.
- The Bengals averaged 6.9 yards per rush against the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL in yards per rush allowed at 3.5. Only two other teams this season had rushed for more than 4.0 yards per rush.
- Rookie wide receiver Auden Tate made his NFL debut on offense midway through the third quarter, but couldn't hang onto a pass as a defender knocked into him to break it up.
- The seven Bengals inactives for the game were the six players listed as out on Friday's injury report (wide receiver A.J. Green, Dennard, Vigil, Burfict, tight end Tyler Kroft and wide receiver Josh Malone) and Redmond, who was listed as doubtful.
UP NEXT: Nov. 18 at Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium, 1 p.m.
The Skinny: The Ravens had a bye this week and entered the bye having lost three straight games to New Orleans (24-23), at Carolina (36-21) and to Pittsburgh (23-16).
The Ravens offense averaged just 313.7 yards per game in those three losses after averaging 393.0 in the first six games.
The defense has also slipped allowing an at least 339 yards in each of the last three games after holding four of the first six opponents to 293 yards or less.
The Bengals were one of the two teams that had success against the Ravens defense in the first six games as they piled up 373 yards in a 34-23 win on Sept. 13 in Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals have won eight of the last 10 meetings against the Ravens and three of the last four games played in Baltimore, including last year's 31-27 win in which they scored the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining to knock the Ravens out of the playoff.
Rookie Lamar Jackson may make his starting debut at quarterback for the Ravens.