What to make of the Bengals' wild opener
Plus, the next ace of the Cincinnati Reds has identified himself
Well…that was a wild ride, wasn’t it? The Cincinnati Bengals played as bad a first half of NFL football as you’re likely to find, yet they still had multiple opportunities to win game one of the season. As you know, they couldn’t cash in on any of those opportunities, suffering a 23-20 overtime defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But still…nothing to worry about, though, right? Please tell me there’s nothing to worry about. Please?
Listen, it was a loss that was entirely avoidable, but also one that encourages me in some ways. Yes, the team looked unprepared for the season. Sure, the offensive line looked like they had never played together before (which is understandable, because they really hadn’t). And Joe Burrow threw four interceptions, with a lost fumble tossed in for good measure. Oh yeah, and the kicking game was a complete disaster. And don’t get me started on some of those coaching decisions.
Wait…where was I going with this? Oh yes, despite all that, I came away from the game nearly as excited about the prospects of this team as I was before the game. There was never a single moment during that game when it wasn’t obvious to everyone in the stadium that the Bengals were the superior team. Despite playing some horrific football, and losing the turnover battle 5-0, Cincinnati still could have (and should have) won the game.
I know many fans are “worried.” That’s fine; it’s the nature of being a Cincinnati sports fan, and it’s not like the team didn’t give you plenty of reasons to be concerned. But Joe Burrow just isn’t going to play that poorly again. The offensive line has barely seen game action in front of Burrow; they will improve. The kicking game is the last thing I’m worried about, assuming the Bengals figure out a way to replace long snapper Clark Harris, who was injured early in the game and appears to be out for the season, quickly.
To be sure, the Bengals have broken hearts before. It’s a common thread that weaves throughout Cincinnati sport. But I choose to remain optimistic. No one expected the Bengals to go undefeated. When they go into Dallas and come out with a win, we’ll all feel better. I hope.
Some other quick and dirty thoughts:
It was great to see PaulBrownCor Stadium packed and rocking like that. It’s always awesome to see how Cincinnati fans support winning teams. Let’s hope some other owners in town were watching. The next day, the Reds hosted 12,083 diehard fans at Great American Ball Park to see the Reds lose a game against Pittsburgh’s baseball club. I dream of the day when GABP is hosting a party like we’re going to see on home Sundays this year a short walk away.
Cincinnati’s defense was great. Sure, they were playing against a subpar Steelers offensive line, but time and time again, they stepped up after the offense put them in precarious situations. If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic after this loss, this is it.
What a debut for tight end Hayden Hurst! He finished with five catches for 46 yards, with Burrow targeting him eight times. Three of those catches were in overtime, but his very first catch in a Bengals uniform should go a long way in making Hurst a fan favorite here. He dragged two Steelers across the first down line in an act of sheer will. If Hurst can become a reliable target along with the talented corp of receivers, Burrow will have yet another weapon in his arsenal. As if he needed it.
Coach Zac Taylor has some explaining to do, on a number of different fronts. I don’t have enough space to devote to all the questionable decisions, but he didn’t put his team in the best position to win. I was glad to see him accept some responsibility in the aftermath.
Anyway, disappointing loss, but nothing to be overly concerned about, in my estimation. I would love to hear your comments! Feel free to share them below this post at Substack.
This week’s Cincinnati Magazine column: The Reds find another ace in their deck
Something funny happened in the last few weeks and if you’ve been tuned out of this Reds season lately -- and no one could blame you if you have -- you may have missed it.. Cincinnati Reds rookie pitcher Nick Lodolo just staked his claim as the ace of this pitching staff for the foreseeable future.
To be fair, this really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Lodolo, a 6’6″, 205-pound left-handed hurler, had been a top prospect long before any of us had heard his name. You probably know that Lodolo was drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 2019 draft (#7 overall), after an outstanding college career at Texas Christian University in which he was given first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in each of his three seasons. But that was actually the second time Lodolo had been drafted in the first round. Back in 2016, the Pirates selected Lodolo shortly after he graduated from Damien High School in La Verne, California, but he chose to go to college, deferring his professional dreams.
Well, those dreams are coming alive now and thankfully, in Cincinnati rather than Pittsburgh. Lodolo made his MLB debut earlier this season and while his first couple of starts were shaky, he has shown glimpses of serious potential when he’s been able to stay on the field. Lodolo missed more than two months of the season with a lower back strain, but since he returned to the mound in early June, you can almost see the improvement with each inning of experience he accrues.
In fact, over the last month, Lodolo has been among the very best pitchers in all of baseball.
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