CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow led the Bengals downfield twice with a chance to grab a late lead. Cincinnati fans watching from home were thinking they were about to see their woebegone franchise reach a turning point behind the new quarterback.
Burrow threw an interception on a shovel pass to end one chance. Then, Randy Bullock missed a 31-yard field goal because of a cramp in his calf with 2 seconds left to complete an opening 16-13 loss to the Chargers.
No matter who’s the quarterback, the Bengals still can’t get out of their own way.
“It never should have come down to that for us,” coach Zac Taylor said Monday.
As bad as it was, there were a few hints that things can be better this season after a 2-14 finish that matched the worst in club history.
For starters, there’s Burrow.
The only rookie quarterback to start in the opening week took a while to get acclimated. Once he did, he showed flashes of the Heisman Trophy form that made him the top overall pick. He finished 23 of 36 for 193 yards with one interception, a 23-yard touchdown run and a passer rating of 66.1.
Now it’s a short turnaround with a game Thursday night in Cleveland.
Burrow repeatedly overthrew receivers and held the ball too long in the first three quarters of his first NFL game. By the end, he was in a rhythm. Burrow completed 8 of 11 — including a clock-stopping spike — for 60 yards on a 14-play, 80-yard drive, an encouraging way to end the first game for a rookie who had no preseason to get acclimated.
Burrow, of course, wasn’t impressed. Asked to grade his performance, he gave it a “D” and recited his missed chances.
“Tough way to lose,” he said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line had a rough first half. Cincinnati managed only 88 yards, Burrow was sacked three times and Joe Mixon couldn’t find holes. It got better in the second half but remains a concern.
“As a whole, that unit got better as the game went on but there’s still a lot of things we’ve got to clean up,” Taylor said.
Jonah Williams, their first-round pick in 2019, had an uneven debut at left tackle after missing last season with a shoulder injury. Right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo suffered an ankle injury in the second half.
“We felt like we could’ve won this one if we executed better, and we didn’t,” Williams said.
Defense. The Bengals overhauled a unit that was one of the league’s worst, replacing five starters in the offseason. Against a limited Chargers offense working behind a shuffled line, the defense allowed only a touchdown and three field goals, one set up by a fumble.
“We did some great things, for sure, and we’ve got to build off those things,” linebacker Josh Bynes said.
The biggest disappointment was no turnovers created, but it was a good first showing for an overhauled unit that was missing tackle Geno Atkins.
“The defense as a whole gave us a winning performance,” Taylor said.
Last season, Bullock made all of his six field-goal attempts between 30 and 39 yards. He said his left calf cramped as he planted to kick what would have been the tying field goal, forcing the ball to fly wide right. He was limited in practice Monday.
Atkins missed the opener with a shoulder injury and didn’t practice Monday. Su’a-Filo also was held out of practice.
— 2-15: Taylor’s record as head coach. No other head coach in Bengals history has started so poorly. Dave Shula, who lost 50 games quicker than any coach in NFL history, started 5-12.
Get Burrow enough help to get his first NFL win.
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