BENGALS

The Bengals offense can't wake up as Cowboys get a last second win

Charlie Goldsmith
Cincinnati Enquirer

ARLINGTON, Texas –– On a third down early in the game on Sunday, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow made a call at the line of scrimmage to move an extra blocker right in front of him.

When Burrow called for the snap of the ball, there was no one blocking one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. He sprinted around the edge and hit Burrow before the third-year quarterback even had a chance to look at a wide receiver.

If you give Parsons a free path to Burrow, it doesn’t matter how dynamic your quarterback is. It doesn’t matter if you have the best wide receiver trio in the NFL. It doesn’t matter if you have the perfectly designed play down the field.

The Bengals offense looked flawed, inconsistent and unproductive as the Dallas Cowboys upset Cincinnati, 20-17, on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Burrow completed 24 of 36 passes for just 199 yards, and the Bengals allowed at least six sacks for the second consecutive week.

"We had to figure out the protection side of it," Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. "Once we get that, we get the quick game going. Then once you get the quick game going, you can open up the deep throws. We had to change up our whole game plan because of how they were playing us."

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) in the first quarter of an NFL Week 2 game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Bengals tied the game at 17 with a 19-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. Then with two minutes left, Burrow had the ball with a chance to win it, but the Bengals had a three-and-out drive. The headset in Burrow's helmet went out on 3rd and 3, the Bengals had to rush a play call at the line of scrimmage and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs tackled Boyd following a short pass in front of the first down line.

Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush then did what Burrow couldn’t and executed the game-winning field goal drive. Dallas got the ball back with just over a minute left at their 35-yard line. Following two first down passes, Cowboys kicker Brett Maher made a 50-yard field goal at the buzzer.

The Cowboys entered the game with a backup quarterback, just one starting caliber wide receiver and the entire left side of the offensive line injured. And yet the Cowboys were the offense that could solve the problems they were facing on the other side of the field. 

"We called some (deep passes) but had to check out of them," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. "That was the one thing they were trying to limit, trying to double Ja’Marr (Chase) and play Tampa 2 to limit those shots. When your first down efficiency isn’t very good, it’s easy for them to take that away."

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs out of the pocket in the second quarter of an NFL Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Burrow took four sacks in the first half, and it wasn’t just a result of the offensive line losing one-on-one matchups. On one sack, tight end Drew Sample had to block a defensive end by himself. On another, a Cowboys blitzer ran straight up the middle.

One of Burrow’s superpowers last year was his ability to shred blitzes. The Bengals had play designs that got receivers open quickly with room to run. Burrow kept his eyes down the field despite the pressure surrounding him and found his receivers for deep completions. 

On Sunday, Burrow didn't have that same quality against that style of defense. His timing in the pocket, his accuracy and his ability to extend plays all looked a tick off.

"Today we were trying to find some explosive plays in different situations, and maybe I can go to a check or two if I see a different opportunity for a big play," Burrow said. "We’ll go back and look."

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) jog off the field for a punt in the third quarter of an NFL Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Dallas Cowboys won, 20-17.

The Bengals’ offense didn’t have any big plays as the Cowboys took a 17-3 lead into the break. The first half was a combination of missed blocks, false starts, penalties and open receivers that Burrow didn't find.

Unlike the Week 1 loss to the Steelers, where the Bengals were too aggressive early on and Burrow forced a few passes into tight windows, the Bengals offense versus the Cowboys was built around Burrow getting rid of the ball quickly. Unlike a Cowboys offense that took advantage of good matchups for their wide receivers on the outside and designed plays that got them open, Burrow didn’t have the right answers to the challenges the Cowboys were throwing at him.

"There’s no finger pointing or anything like that, but we got to take it upon us to come out, execute and be ready to play," Bengals running back Joe Mixon said. "For some reason, it seems like we’ve been coming up short in that area. We’ve been starting off slow. Little penalties here and there have been killing us. For real, we’ve got to execute."

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) turns to hand the ball off to Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) in the third quarter of an NFL Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Dallas Cowboys won, 20-17.

The Bengals offense finally found a rhythm on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. With six minutes left in the game, the Bengals faced 4th and 6 at the Cowboys’ 27-yard line. With the game potentially on the line, Diggs, an All-Pro, was guarding Chase. Burrow’s two previous throws had been off-target, but this one to Chase on a slant was on the money for the first down.

Two plays later, Higgins ran a comeback route near the left sideline. Burrow timed the play with Higgins, and the Bengals made it to the Cowboys’ 7-yard line. Two plays after that, Burrow rolled out of the pocket and found Higgins in the back corner of the end-zone for the touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Burrow connected with Boyd to tie the game at 17-17.

"After I got the two-point conversion, I knew we were going to win," Boyd said. "That was the first thing that popped into my mind after I caught the ball, we were going to win this game. At the end, when they got the ball, they made one more play than we did. No matter how the game goes early, all that matters is the last minute of the game."

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) catches a two-point conversion to tie the game in the fourth quarter of an NFL Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Dallas Cowboys won, 20-17.

The Bengals got the ball back again in a tie game in the last two minutes. But on 3rd down, Diggs tackled Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd inches in front of the first down line. The Cowboys got the ball, and the Bengals defense allowed a game-winning field goal drive for the second consecutive week.

"You have to do the little things right," Boyd said. "It could be one person that doesn’t make a block or one receiver who doesn't run a certain route the right way. One person can jeopardize the whole play. You can’t point fingers. We’ll start together and we’ll end together. We’ve got to figure it out (as soon as possible)."