CINCINNATI — Seems like we’ve been here before.
Oh yes, it was just a year ago when the Bengals started the season 0-2.
Fast forward to today when Cincinnati is once again 0-2, after Baltimore came into The Jungle — and edged its AFC North rival 27-24.
And Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is not himself.
And there is speculation he irritated the same strained calf which kept him out of most of training camp.
“Tweaked it a little bit,” he said, when asked about his leg. “I’m not sure how it’s going to feel the next couple of days. It’s pretty sore right now, but no telling how it’s going to feel, so I think we’re going to take it day by day.”
He did turn in a respectable performance on Sunday at Paycor Stadium, completing 27 of 41 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
But something is missing.
He’s not scrambling or throwing deep to Ja’Marr Chase or anyone as far as that goes.
He’s been dumping the ball off to Joe Mixon, or flinging it to the flats.
There were glimpses of the greatness we’ve come to expect from Burrow — and his talented corps of wide receivers on Sunday.
Twice he found Tee Higgins for touchdowns on tosses of three and four yards in the second half.
Higgins had 89 yards on eight catches with two scores, while Chase was limited to 31 yards on five catches — and Tyler Boyd had 52 yards on six catches.
But the story on Sunday for Baltimore was it dominated the clock, and put together several long drives that kept Burrow and the Cincinnati offense on the sidelines.
It took five full quarters and a special teams play by Charlie Jones to give the Bengals their first TD of the season — when he returned a punt 81 yards with 13:14 to go in the first half.
It was the franchise’s first punt returned for a touchdown — since Adam Jones did it on Sept. 16, 2012.
And it took Burrow seven quarters to fire a scoring strike this season, but he found Higgins at the 2:34 mark in the third — on a three-yarder in the end zone.
“Me and Tee are always on the same page,” Burrow said. “You’re going to have bad games like last week, that’s going to happen in the league. It’s all about how your respond to them. We didn’t win the game today, but we build momentum and we’ve got to build on that.”
How will the Bengals respond on Monday Night Football when the Los Angeles Rams come to The Jungle?
An 0-3 start is an awful deep ditch to dig out from.
Last year, when the Bengals started 0-2, they put together a 12-2 run — and made it to the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
Head coach Zac Taylor said the team has been here before, and is not pushing the panic button — yet.
“The beauty of this team is we know it’s a 17-game season,” he said. “It’s not what we want. We’ve lost to two teams now that will be there down the stretch, but we get them again, just like last year. It is important to turn the page because it’s always a new team and a new year. But there’s a lot we can take from last year that will help us going forward.”
Yeah, they’ve been there before.
But it’s not a place you want to continue to go.
“We’ve done it before,” Burrow added. “Obviously you don’t want to start 0-2, it not what we’re planning on, not what you want to do at all. But now we’re going to bounce back, that’s what we do — that’s all there is to it.”
Well, they have no choice.
The Bengals’ backs are up against the wall.
They are dead least in the difficult AFC North, and cannot afford to go 0-3.
Fans have no choice but to be hopeful.
Hopeful that Burrow’s leg is okay.
Hopeful that the high-powered offense will find rhythm and click as a unit.
Hopeful that the O-line can provide protection for its quarterback.
And hopeful for a W.
“Stay patient with us,” was Taylor’s message to the Who Dey faithful. “I know that’s hard to say and listen to. They want wins, there’s a lot of excitement going into the season. We still have a lot of excitement. It’s September 17 and we plan on this being a long season. We’ll be excited to make corrections and put this behind us and have an electric Monday Night Football crowd as we’ve had here.”
The pressure is on Taylor, who is 1-9 in the first two weeks of the season — since becoming head coach of the Bengals in 2019.
Fans are getting frustrated with the consistent slow starts.
X — or Twitter — exploded during Sunday’s debacle of a game with negative comments calling for Taylor to be fired.
But that’s expected when any team starts 0-2.
But what was NOT expected was NO offense.
The hype all preseason was that Burrow had the best wide receiving corps around.
He still does.
He just can’t get the ball to them.
“Well, when your quarterback misses camp, it’s tough to start fast,” Burrow admitted. “So, it’s not an ideal situation.”
Basically, the first two regular season contests were Burrow’s preseason games.
Now, the real season starts on Monday Night Football.
The Bengals have spotted the AFC North two games.
They need another 12-2 run.